MANHATTAN — Take pyridostigmine bromide pills, mix with several vaccinations received at the same time — including anthrax — many of which contained mercury as a preservative, blend with inaccurate shot records, add a lack of rest, sprinkled with a dash of stressful conditions and you have the recipe for a “significant association” between subsequent declines in subjective health experiences and Gulf War veterans. That’s the conclusion in a report released by researchers at Kansas State University.
The research team, led by Walter Schumm, a K-State professor of family studies and human services, studied a random selection of nearly 1,000 reserve component veterans from all branches of the military, who had either been living in Ohio in March 1996 or who had been in Ohio as of August 1990.
State officials were concerned over numerous reports of veterans in Ohio being ill with various problems and hired the team of researchers to take an independent look at the problem. In addition to Schumm, the principal investigator, researchers included Earl J. Reppert, M.D., medical director, Lafene Student Health Center; Anthony P. Jurich, Stephan R. Bollman, Farrell J. Webb, and Carlos S. Castelo, all from the department of family studies and human services.
Schumm said veterans were asked about changes in their health from before, during and after the war, as well as at the current time. Among those veterans who reported excellent health before the war, 36 percent who said they received an anthrax vaccination reported poor to fair health in 1996 compared to 18 percent of those who did not report receiving the anthrax vaccination. In contrast, those who were not mobilized and did not receive an anthrax vaccination or pyridostigmine bromide pills reported much lower levels of poor to fair health in 1996 — less than 5 percent.
“What we basically found was that subjective health deteriorated somewhat over time,” Schumm said. “As people got older their health declined a little bit. We did find that those who recalled that they did receive an anthrax vaccination during the Gulf War, their health deteriorated about twice as fast as folks in similar circumstances who didn’t have a recollection of receiving that shot. ”
Schumm said researchers also found that many of the medical records or shot records of the veterans had been falsified or destroyed, making it virtually impossible to use clinical data to assess the impact of vaccinations or the pyridostigmine bromide pills. In addition, many veterans reported taking incorrect dosages of the pyridostigmine bromide pills, most taking too few with some taking far too many. Only 24 percent of those reporting their average daily consumption of pills actually took the recommended three pills a day.
“Without actual medical records, it is very difficult to prove causality,” Schumm said. “It would be pretty easy to discount any one study by itself as an anomaly since each of the studies have their own unique limitations, but obtaining the same results across different nationalities and research teams would seem to indicate that something went wrong with the process at that time for at least some of the veterans. Personally, I think the best guess is that the mix of pyridostigmine bromide pills, multiple vaccinations in a brief period of time, and high levels of stress combined to adversely affect the health of individuals with genetic susceptibility to such combinations.”
Schumm noted that their research confirms results reported previously by British, Canadian, and other U.S. research teams with respect to vaccinations and pyridostigmine bromide consumption. He is working on a critique of a report recently released by the Institute of Medicine, clearing anthrax vaccine of any connection to health problems. Schumm said that it is possible that the anthrax vaccine as given today may be safe while the product as manufactured and administered during the Gulf War — in combination with all the other factors — was less than optimal with respect to the long term health of recipients.
“I get angry sometimes because you hear on the news that the Gulf War Syndrome symptoms are psychological; it’s all in their heads,” Schumm said. “I think our research suggests that there is something else going on,” Schumm said. “If it was just all just psychological I don’t think we’d get these correlations with the exposures like we have. I think our findings are equivalent if not better than other studies done.”
The study was funded by the State of Ohio through the Center for the Study of Veterans in Society.