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Thursday, 18 May, 2000, 09:29 GMT 10:29 UK
Vaccines linked to Gulf War Syndrome
Gulf War soldiers
Gulf War veterans complain of symptoms of chronic fatigue
Vaccines have been implicated as a potential cause of ill health in veterans of the 1991 Gulf War by an expert study.

However, the conclusions of the study published by the British Medical Journal have been questioned by experts.

Some veterans have complained of symptoms of ill health since returning to the UK.

Symptoms include chronic fatigue, infertility and mental illness.

Many believe the veterans are suffering from Gulf War Syndrome, although its very existence is hotly disputed in some circles.

A vaccination programme of UK service personnel was set up in the months leading up to, and during, deployment in the Gulf in order to protect against the threat of biological warfare, and other tropical diseases.

And a team from the Gulf War Research Unit at Guy's, King's and St Thomas's School of Medicine have investigated claims that the vaccination programme may be to blame for the veterans' ill health.

The researchers found a link between ill health and multiple vaccinations - but only in military personal who had received their vaccinations during deployment.

These people were up to five times more likely to suffer from a range of problems.

Vaccines may have lead to symptoms of ill health

Writing in the BMJ, they say: "Multiple vaccinations in themselves do not seem to be harmful but combined with the stress of deployment they may be associated with adverse health outcomes."

They found no evidence that the traditional stresses of war had any impact on the effect of multiple vaccines, and no interaction between vaccines and the use of pesticides.

The researchers say their findings imply that every effort should be made to maintain routine vaccines during peacetime.

However, they accept that their study was limited to personnel who had kept their vaccine records.

Research "inconclusive"

These findings demand cautious interpretation

Dr Seif Shaheen, British Medical Journal editorial
In an accompanying editorial piece in the BMJ, Dr Seif Shaheen, of the department of public health sciences at Guy's, King's and St Thomas's School of Medicine, warns that the research is inconclusive.

Dr Shaheen says the study failed to take account the effect of exposure to other agents, and warns the information about vaccination records might not be reliable.

For instance, anthrax vaccination was reported much more frequently than pertussis vaccination, even though they were always given together.

Dr Shaheen is also concerned that veterans who displayed no symptoms of ill health might have exaggerated how many vaccinations they received after it was suggested in the media that they could get compensation if the hypothesis was confirmed.

He said: "These findings demand cautious interpretation."

However, Dr Shaheen says that whether the hypothesis is correct or not, it would be sensible to keep routine vaccination of armed forces personnel up to date during peacetime.

Call for public inquiry

Our bodies were abused and we were let down by the Ministry of Defence

Shaun Rusing, National Gulf Veterans and Families Association

Shaun Rusing, chairman of the National Gulf Veterans and Families Association and himself a Gulf War Syndrome sufferer, said: "We are pleased that this research has found a link between multiple vaccinations and the syndrome.

"We were used as guinea pigs during the war. Our bodies were abused and we were let down by the Ministry of Defence."

Mr Rusing called for a public inquiry into Gulf War Syndrome.

The Ministry of Defence issued a statement which said the suggested link between vaccinations and the stress of deployment was merely a "hypothesis" and that nothing had been proved.

The MoD accepted that vaccination programmes of military personnel should be kept up to date.

It has been suggested that the vaccines given to military personnel may have caused ill health by altering the levels of key immune system chemicals known as cytokines.

This, it is suggested, leads to the development of symptoms similar to those of chronic fatigue syndrome.

Recent research has shown that stress reduces the levels of cytokines in the system, which slows down the healing process.

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See also:

29 Jan 99 | Health
Gulf veterans slam MoD report
15 Jan 99 | Health
Gulf veterans 'twice as ill'
13 Apr 00 | Health
Stress slows healing
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