Tuesday, 18 November 2008

So what they're saying, is that it's either fake, or they're guilty?

Gulf War Syndrome. Probably the most notorious and suspicious health complaint of recent years. Distinct from cases of lungs being eroded by exposure to mustard gas, or confirmed cancer linked to depleted uranium (which many people claim is so weakly radioactive that you basically have to breath in the dust and have it sit in your lungs for years to be at risk), Gulf War Syndrome is a vague and poorly defined disorder (start ringing warning bells now) which afflicts veterans and frustrates diagnosticians. There are weirder dodgy diagnoses, such as Morgellon's Disease, but Gulf War Syndrome is much more widely known.

Most of the informed, knowledgeable commentary I've seen is that GWS is simply PTSD and other psychopathologies, and when you look at the list of symptoms - "persistent headaches, widespread pain, cognitive difficulties, unexplained fatigue, skin rashes, chronic diarrhoea and digestive and respiratory problems" - anyone with a passing knowledge of psychology or medicine in general should see that they are, all of them, possible as symptoms of a strong stress reaction.

And now we have this: Gulf War Illness is real, report finds (ABC News Online).

It has taken since 2002, but a Research Advisory Committee has finally come out and said "Well, there's definitely something going on, but we're not sure what it is. But, dammit, it's there".

Okay, sarcasm mode off for a moment - it's not uncommon for causes to be a bit vague. Just look at Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which has some MRI evidence backing it up. But the problem with GWS is that it displays some depressingly common patterns - self-reports of cognitive deficits exceed actual test resutls, which are age-group normal; the most common symptoms are common in the general population anyway; death rates from general causes are the same as for non-veterans; and, oh yes, my favourite: every major military conflict results in a large collection of veterans with vague symptomatology, a condition which was labelled "shell shock" after WWI and is now known as (drum roll please) PTSD.

So I remain skeptical of people who cry "Gulf War Illness!" when a good swath of tests has found no toxicology, no radiation, and no physiological abnormalities. The US government has an obligation to care for them, but the type of care which is most appropriate may not be what the veterans were expecting. Hey, some of them may even have picked up CFS by pure coincidence.

Have a look at Quackwatch or Wikipedia if you really want to look into the debate.

What stunned me about that ABC article, however, is the list of possible causes: A drug given to troops, pesticides used during the war (why? It's not like Iraq has forests the way Vietnam does, sorry, did), exposure to smoke from oil-well fires and low-level exposure to sarin gas during the destruction of captured stocks.

At this point, any personal injury lawyer or OH&S professional is jumping up and down and shouting about employer responsibility.

Basically, of the four options mentioned, one is the direct result of standard practice within the army, and I can't wait to see the legal shit-fight if that ever gets proven, and the other three are the result of the army failing to provide its soldiers with appropriate and adequate safety clothing. Try doing thaton a building site and see how long you last!

If this report is true, and there is or are physical ailments caused by any of this exposure, it is taking the concept of "friendly fire" to disturbing and innovative levels which not even the US Armed Forces had previously demonstrated themselves capable of.

Link to ABC News Online story "Gulf War Illness is real, report finds"


Anonymous said...

Hmm - It's so obvious. You're a spokesperson for ACS. Right? The only anti chemical injury rhetoric that I've read in the last few years can always be traced to the ACS (American Chemical Society) or their seminars to medical (professionals?) or some of their sponsored offshoots like Quackwatch. Your comments fly in the face of "real" science that has reported injury to exposures from chemicals in articles by the tens of thousands. You instead rely heavily on "Tobacco Science". Those henchmen hired by Tobacco to tell us that tobacco and smoking are never harmful. People like you should only be allowed to live next to our most polluted factories and bathe in insecticides. When you complain you're ill from the exposures we'll say "you're fakin it!"

Anonymous said...

Sorry to post as Anon, but I can't remember my username. My name's J.^I'm not them

There's a lot more to CFS than some abnormal MRI's, as well.

Here's a brief overview on CFS research to date given by Dr. Anthony Komaroff at a recent conference on viruses in CFS-

Also, here's some of the more interesting CFS research that's happened recently(possibly a bit heavy on Kerr references, but he's publishing most of the CFS gene expression research, which is one of the brightest areas in CFS research, because as he notes- "The top functional categories of these 88(differentially expressed) genes were hematologic disease and function, immunologic disease and function, cancer, cell death, immune response, and infection".)-

Neary et al-
Prefrontal cortex oxygenation during incremental exercise in chronic fatigue syndrome

Kerr, et al-
Gene profiling of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis
Gene expression subtypes in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis
Seven genomic subtypes of chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis: a detailed analysis of gene networks and clinical phenotypes

Saiki et al-
Identification of marker genes for differential diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome

Nijs et al-
Chronic fatigue syndrome: exercise performance related to immune dysfunction

Lange et al-
Objective evidence of cognitive complaints in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: a BOLD fMRI study of verbal working memory

Mathew et al-
Ventricular cerebrospinal fluid lactate is increased in chronic fatigue syndrome compared with generalized anxiety disorder: an in vivo 3.0 T (1)H MRS imaging study

Presentation by Kerr at the same conference mentioned above-
all Satellite Conference videos-

Dubito said...

Well, well, well. Look what came out of the woodwork.

First of all: Hello, J. I have friends with CFS, and I've struggled with Post Viral Fatigue myself. That's why I use it as an example: It's baffling, but there's a growing body of data around it. Thanks for the links, though: Interesting stuff.

Now, onto the first mess.

The thing about illness, you see, anonymous, is that there is evidence. That's why the CFS research is so good: We're finding evidence of things changed. Your pathetic comment about "real" science, as though you're honest enough to admit that you're bullshitting, reveals a gaping hole in your knowledge of just how many diagnostic tools are available - gene profiling, PET, MRI, SPECT, CT, toxicology screening, hormone measures, immune response testing, the list goes on - and just how little has been found in the huge, diverse and extremely poorly defined group of people who may or may not have "Gulf War Syndrome". When you have a basic understanding of physiology, then try and keep on arguing.

And what's this bullshit about "chemical injury"? Is that like the injury you get from ingesting water, or the injury you get from ingesting strychnine, or the injury you get from ingesting the thousands of chemicals in tobacco smoke (don't even try and suggest that I listen to "Tobacco Science", you pathetic little turd), or the injury you get from ingesting carcinogenic chemicals like oxygen?

Your weak, fearful little conspiracy theories mask an appalling lack of logic. I don't know who the ACS is, I live in Australia, and my bank account is glaring proof that I'm not a spokesperson for anyone. And yet you fail to consider any alternative other than that the huge, diverse, diversely funded and intensely competitive medical research community might, just possibly, have reasons, backed up by an understanding of actual science and medicine, to not agree with your Chicken Little belief system.

Fuck off and get a clue.

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