The cause of Gulf War illness is still a mystery but focusing on treatments and interventions might help the veterans of Operation Desert Storm as well as the troops of the future, according to an Institute of Medicine committee report led by University of Rochester Medical Center Professor Deborah Cory-Slechta.
In 1990 and ’91 nearly 700,000 U.S. troops deployed to the Persian Gulf region for a short, intense war. Few injuries or deaths occurred, but troops were exposed to chemical and biological weapons, vaccines, oil-fires, air pollution, bomb blasts, pesticides, extreme desert temperatures, and constant false alarms and fear of nerve-gas attacks.
After the war ended a high number of the veterans reported debilitating fatigue, muscle and joint pain, headaches, and cognitive problems. This became known as “Gulf War illness.” During the past 25 years, 10 different committees of the nation’s top medical experts have searched for evidence that would better define Gulf War illness and possible treatments. The latest committee, headed by Cory-Slechta, concluded that no single mechanism can explain the multitude of symptoms seen in Gulf War illness—and that it’s unlikely a cause will ever be identified.