Since the early 1990s, some 175,000 U.S. troops have returned from service in the first Gulf War reporting a host of vague complaints, notes Richard Briggs, a physical chemist at UT Southwestern involved in the new imaging. Their symptoms ranged from mental confusion, difficulty concentrating, attacks of sudden vertigo and intense uncontrollable mood swings to extreme fatigue and sometimes numbness – or the opposite, constant body pain.
With funding from the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, Haley has assembled a team of roughly 140 researchers. Many work with patients. Others are developing new animal, biochemical and genetic studies to identify the biological perturbations underlying Gulf War Illness. But the vast majority – some two-thirds of these scientists – are now involved in brain imaging.
As a result of these studies, Briggs says, “In the last two years we have learned more about Gulf War Illness than we did in the previous 15.”
What’s emerged is evidence to suggest “that there are three major syndromes responsible for Gulf War Illness,” he says. They appear loosely linked to at least three different types of agents to which many troops were exposed: sarin nerve gas, a nerve gas antidote (pyridostigmine bromide) that presented its own risks and military-grade pesticides to prevent illness from sand flies and other noxious pests. But Briggs acknowledges that no one knows for sure which combination of agents or environmental conditions might have conspired to trigger Gulf War illness.
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Army Pesticides in the Military