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 Friday, 10 January, 2003, 12:44 GMT
Gulf war drugs 'linked to infertility'
Gulf War troops took drugs to protect against disease
Drugs given to soldiers involved in the Gulf War may have caused infertility and other sexual problems, a US government-funded study suggests.

Researchers say tests on rats have shown that some of the chemicals can damage male reproductive organs.

The drugs were given to soldiers to protect them against insect-borne diseases and nerve-gas poisoning during the 1991 conflict.

It backs up our experience over the last 11 years

Spokesman, Gulf Veterans and Families Association
Veterans' groups say many of their members have suffered fertility and other sexual problems since the war.

Dr Mohamed Abou-Donia and colleagues at Duke University Medical Center tested the insect repellent DEET, the insecticide permethrin and the anti-nerve gas agent pyridostigmine bromide on rats.

The rats were given equivalent doses to those given to soldiers.

Extensive damage

According to the researchers, these chemicals caused extensive damage to the cells in the rats' testes when they were given together.

The damage was even more severe among those rats that were also exposed to moderately stressful situations.

The damage affected the part of the testes responsible for producing sperm.

The researchers have previously shown that the same chemicals can cause devastating changes in rats' brains.

In a study published last year, they suggested the chemicals killed cells in key areas of the brain responsible for muscle strength; balance and coordination; memory, cognition and mood.

In both tests, the rats appeared physically normal despite extensive intensive cell damage.

"The chemically-treated rats don't look or behave any differently than normal rats, just as the soldiers don't show any outward signs of disease," said Dr Abou-Donia.

"But under a microscope you can see clear and well-defined damage to a variety of testicular structures."

Further study

Dr Abou-Donia said he was planning further research to find out why the chemicals acted in this way.

"The military used these chemicals with the best of intentions, to protect soldiers from indigenous diseases in the Gulf War region. Without protection, there may have been thousands of deaths.

"But it appears that the precautions prevented one set of problems while creating another.

"Now our task is to discern the mechanisms of illness in order to provide the soldiers with maximum protection and the least risk of chemically induced injury."

The UK's National Gulf Veterans and Family Association welcomed the study.

Speaking to BBC News Online, a spokesman said: "It backs up our experience over the last 11 years where we have found many veterans and their partners have complained of burning semen and high rates of gynaecological problems."

The study is published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health. It was funded by the US Department of Defense.

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08 Jan 03 | Health
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