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Gulf War Illness Possibly Linked to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFIDS)

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By By: Katie Maddrell Ferreti • • January 1, 1996

Preliminary studies indicate a possible linkage between what is now known as Gulf War Syndrome and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

In November 1994, the U.S. Department of Veterans' Affairs (VA), the Department of Defense (DoD), and the Pennsylvania Department of Health requested that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) investigate a report of unexplained illnesses among members of an Air National Guard unit in south-central Pennsylvania who were veterans of the Persian Gulf War (PGW) from go 1990-June 1991). These veterans had been evaluated for symptoms that included recurrent rash, diarrhea, and fatigue.

A three-stage investigation was then implemented to verify the symptoms among the Persian unit war veterans, determine the prevalence, and finally, characterize the illness.

On October 3 t, 1995, Drs. Keiji Fukuda and William Reeves of the CDC presented part of the study at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association. Among the symptomatic PGW veterans examined, the most frequently reported symptoms considered "moderate" or "severe" included fatigue, joint pain, unrefreshing sleep, excessive gas, nasal or sinus congestions, diarrhea, joint stiffness, "difficulty remembering," muscle pains, headaches, abdominal pain, general weakness, and impaired concentration. These patients reported that their symptoms began during or after departure from the Persian Gulf and lasted for over six months.

In the second stage, three other units were used as a comparison. A total of 3,927 personnel participated in the survey. In all units, he prevalence of each of the 13 chronic symptoms lasting over 6 months was significantly greater among persons in the Persian Gulf War Gulf War than those not deployed.

The third stage is currently in progress. There we two main differences noted so far between the ill veterans and CFS patients studied. First, most veterans reported a gradual onset while an acute, infectious-like onset is more common for those with CFS. Second, CFS patients are, more disabled than the PGW veterans studied.

Like many PGW veterans, many persons with CFS report exposure to toxins, including pesticides and chemicals, within weeks or months of the onset of the illness. Kim Kenney, the executive director of The CFIDS Association of America commented "Collaborative efforts between researchers studying CFS and GWS-two similar, if not identical illnesses-may speed answers, treatment, and relief to the thousands who suffer."

Approximately 700,000 U.S. troops (active duty, reserve, and National Guard) were deployed to the Persian Gulf region during operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm from August 1990 through June 1991. Through March 1995, approximately 43,000 have reported postwar health concerns with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

For now, it appears that Gulf War Syndrome and CFS have similar symptoms. Jane Perlmutter, a director of the CFIDS Activation Network, commented "Although there are no markers for either [CFIDS or Gulf War Syndrome], there may be several advantages for the connection found between the two illnesses."

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