- OTTAWA (CP) -- An American research scientist says some Gulf War vets,
including Canadians, are suffering from man-made contagions that have spread
to their spouses, children, even pets.
- Garth Nicolson of the California-based
Institute for Molecular Medicine, says scientists from the non-profit centre
have discovered organisms in the blood of veterans and their families.
- "What we're finding is that about
half of the veterans and their symptomatic family members have evidence
of chronic infections," Nicolson said in an interview from Huntington
- "These can be infections with bacteria,
like brucella, or mycoplasmas. They're airborne contagions and they can
- What's even more disturbing is that Nicolson
believes the contagions are manufactured, the product of an insidious chemical
- Some associated with the potentially
lethal ailments allude to conspiracies of X-Files proportions. Sufferers
and their families, many frustrated and desperate, contend officialdom
knows more than it lets on.
- Military researchers have expressed doubts
about the institute's findings, saying they've found no signs the illnesses
are contagious and that standard blood tests have failed to confirm claims
of the presence of microscopic organisms.
- But the evidence, say U.S. civilian researchers,
is overwhelming that what's ailing Gulf War vets is not a natural phenomenon.
- "They (the mycoplasma) contain retroviral
DNA sequences ... suggesting that they have been modified to make them
more pathogenic and more difficult to detect," said Nicolson.
- Symptoms can include anxiety, depression,
chronic fatigue, environmental illness and respiratory disease. Some sufferers
have contracted problems similar to multiple sclerosis or ALS; others have
died or committed suicide.
- Nicolson's findings have been given the
scrutiny of peer-reviewed journal publications and two commercial U.S.
laboratories have backed his work. Now the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department
is testing it in a year-long study involving hundreds of Gulf War veterans.
- "From a scientific point of view,
it's an interesting hypothesis," department spokesman Terry Jemison
said from Washington. "We thought that veterans deserved to have the
- Canadian military officials maintain
Gulf War illness -- actually at least 14 illnesses, say researchers --
is largely the result of post-traumatic stress.
- "One of the possibilities to consider
is that many of the complaints of Gulf War veterans, as a group, may be
an expression of having participated in a unique war with unique stresses,"
said a consultant's report.
- But the report, filed to the Canadian
government last spring, also cites possible exposure to chemical and biological
warfare agents, vaccines such as anthrax and botulinum toxoid, oil-well
smoke and pesticides.
- Many Gulf War troops were also given
pyridostigmine bromide -- similar to a muscle relaxant, said Dr. Don Philbin,
a Nicolson associate in Granby, Que.
- "It's supposed to build up the defence
system but I think what it did was overpower the neurological defence system."
- The report noted the first rotation of
the Canadian naval task force had a markedly different war experience from
the second rotation and other units.
- "The first rotation was prior to
the air war, had no administration of pyridostigmine bromide, plague or
anthrax vaccine and no other war-related exposures such as oil-well smoke,
spent weapons, etc.," it said.
- "A majority of the second rotation
experienced all or most of the above."
- Why then do so many vets from both rotations
report similar illnesses?
- Nicolson believes the mycoplasma was
transmitted among soldiers, sailors and airmen. Nicolson's institute has
found the organisms in scores of U.S. service staff and their families
and he believes the problem is spreading.
- Mycoplasma are about the same size as
viruses but unlike viruses can reproduce outside living cells. Many are
harmless but the most virulent -- mycoplasma fermentans -- is the one most
commonly found in Gulf veterans.
- "We have found so far that about
half of the hundreds of patients tested have an invasive mycoplasma infection
that can result in complex signs and symptoms that can be successfully
treated with antibiotics," said Nicolson, who cured his own daughter
of a Gulf War-like illness.
- Nicolson and his wife Nancy say they
have developed new testing procedures -- gene tracking -- to diagnose the
mycoplasma. They say their treatment regime has also met success in cases
of chronic fatigue and other ailments.
- U.S. federal researchers have trained
in the Nicolsons' techniques and U.S. Veterans Affairs is following Nicolson's
treatment regime, giving hundreds of affected veterans the antibiotic doxycycline
to gauge its effectiveness.
- For individuals, the testing costs about
$150 US for an initial diagnosis; $250 US for each test thereafter.