Nerve damage found in Gulf war veterans

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The Independent Online

Health Editor

Some veterans suffering from so-called Gulf war syndrome are showing physical evidence of nerve damage, according to new research.

The findings suggest that the nervous systems of individuals who believe they have the syndrome, do demonstrate clear differences when compared with those of the general population.

The findings, to be published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry later this week, will be seized on by scores of men and women who fought in the Gulf and have since suffered a range of debilitating symptoms. They are campaigning for recognition of Gulf war syndrome by the Ministry of Defence, and many are demanding compensation.

A number of veterans have died after suffering a breakdown in their health that relatives attribute to the syndrome.

Dr Goran Jamal, of the Institute of Neurological Sciences at the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow, analysed the veterans' ability to hear sound impulses, a test designed to determine damage to the central nervous system.

Another test involved monitoring their nerve response to an electrical impulse passed through nerves on their arms and legs, to assess injury to the nerve endings in the peripheral nervous system.

"The results show there were significant differences between the two populations - the Gulf war veterans versus the control population - in terms of nervous system function. The Gulf war veterans performed less well," Dr Jamal says on BBC Scotland's Frontline Scotland programme, to be screened tonight.

Dr Jamal said the "Naps" nerve gas antidote given to British soldiers could be an important factor.

French soldiers not issued with Naps tablets have had no health problems, he said.

Several veterans interviewed in the programme recall how they were given a cocktail of 17 injections against diseases like plague - as well as tablets designed to protect them from biological and nerve gas attack, all in the space of a few days.

"One of the problems is we research these substances alone, in isolation," said Dr Jamal. "What we don't know is the combined effect, of for instance Naps combined with other compounds, and I think it is underestimated."

Katherine Lamb, a former army nurse from Helensburgh, Strathclyde, says on the programme: "I am angry that the MoD have continued to deny there are medical problems. I can't understand why they continue to do this in the light of the evidence available. I think they will have to accept at the end of the day that they have some responsibility for the medical condition of the troops that were in the Gulf."