Heroic Dr. Nicolson Warns
GWI Is A Contagious Epidemic
By Stephen Thorne
Canadian Press
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 Beach.
"These can be infections with bacteria, like brucella, or mycoplasmas. They're airborne contagions and they can spread."
What's even more disturbing is that Nicolson believes the contagions are manufactured, the product of an insidious chemical weapon.
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 opportunity."
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.