Magazine article Insight on the News

Sickness and Secrecy

Magazine article Insight on the News

Sickness and Secrecy

Article excerpt

Accounts of the mystery sickness called Gulf War Syndrome or Persian Gulf Illness read like chapters in a story that could have been written by Michael Crichton, Tom Clancy -- or the Three Stooges. Unlike Joe Klein, the authors of this human tragedy may remain anonymous. Even the ending may never be known.

But current and former soldiers are getting sicker by the day. Treatment systems in military and other government facilities are being called inadequate, and confusion down the chain of command is adding to the misery of thousands of American veterans and their families.

Backpedaling by the Department of Defense, or DoD, about whether soldiers were exposed to biological- and chemical-warfare agents during the Persian Gulf War, and the disappearance of 700,000 service-related immunization records add story lines reeking of conspiracies, cover-ups and top-secret intrigue.

Meanwhile, the sick become sicker, and more join their ranks daily. By the hundreds.

Doctors, nurses, medics, immunologists and toxicologists, both military and civilian, have come to Insight with tales of outrage, anguish, guilt, suspicion and previously undisclosed information that provides new and deeply puzzling data that all hope will lead to answers and treatment for America's gulf-war veterans. Most puzzling is the fact that the sick involve soldiers who were deployed in the Persian Gulf -- as well as those who never left U.S. soil or entered any theater of conflict.

It is from this last clue -- sickness among both deployed and nondeployed -- that we begin. If unwritten chapters of this mystery confirm the suspicions of the health-care specialists, covert medical experiments such as the Tuskegee syphilis studies and the nuclear-radiation tests on U.S. servicemen could pale in comparison. This is no outer-space Andromeda Strain, but there is grave concern it could involve a mad-scientist experiment gone awry.

Before proceeding, however, bear in mind the first maxim of investigative journalism and research science: Never leap to conclusions. So we begin with a small but important element of an unfolding mystery that provides startling new information about where to look and what to look for, who is responsible and what to do to help sick veterans get better.

This new information emerges after a four-month investigation by Insight into origins of gulf-war sickness and subsequent laboratory tests conducted on hundreds of blood samples taken from soldiers -- those sick and those showing no signs of sickness. The analysis of these results, some of which have been separately reconfirmed (though tests continue), show peculiar antibody levels for an experimental adjuvant compound known as squalene. This compound, which is not approved for internal human use other than in highly controlled experiments, has been studied on animals and humans in recent years as a promising tool to help boost the body's immune system against such illnesses as influenza, herpes simplex ... and HIV In fact, it is from the experimental HIV clinical trials run by private firms -- and in conjunction with highlevel government research projects including those by the U.S. military -- that the presence of squalene in the bodies of the sick gulf-war veterans takes on the potentially fiendish qualities of a nightmare.

It is important to note that no such connection has been made by any reputable medical, scientific or government official. In fact, it vehemently has been denied that experimental HIV immunization tests ever were expanded either to a general population of sick people or a general population of military personnel. The reason for such caution is evident: Just because squalene antibodies have been found to exist in test samples of a few hundred gulf-war veterans suffering from Persian Gulf War syndrome does not mean they correlate to currently known HIV experimental-vaccine tests using the same adjuvant compound. …

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