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Toxicologist Disputes Claims That Gulf War Syndrome Is Contagious
MANHATTAN -- Is the Gulf War Syndrome contagious? A Kansas State University toxicologist and principal researcher of the syndrome disputes recent claims that the disease is infectious.
"There are a lot of theories out there as to other chemicals and exposures that could be involved," said Fred Oehme, professor of toxicology, medicine and physiology. "We focused on chemicals that we thought were most likely the cause due to frequency of use and the condition in which they were used."
Oehme says that researchers discovered that the combination of three chemicals was resulting in a problem.
"These chemicals affect the nervous system. That's the way they work," Oehme said. "Nervous effects were the most common complaints that the veterans had: Memory loss, muscle weakness and not being able to recall things."
Recent claims have been made about birth defects, skin rashes and digestive disturbances. Oehme says those problems weren't addressed or examined in the initial study.
"I think what's happening now is you have the political process involved where people are trying to get as much reaction as possible from the politicians," Oehme said. "There's also the problem with individuals associated with the veterans that start lumping everything that happens to them into one syndrome.
"Frankly that doesn't always work out that way," he added. "A headache or a back pain doesn't necessarily mean it's due to a disease that someone else has."
According to Oehme's research, statements that the syndrome is contagious are false. He says that the syndrome is a chemical disease and not infectious in the sense that it would travel just by breath from one person to another.
"If you get a high enough dose of the appropriate chemical you show effects from it," said Oehme. "In order to pass it on, recipients need to receive the same dosage in order to show the same effects. So it's a different set of rules that we're playing by when we're talking about a chemical induced disease versus infectious organism induced disease."
In regard to blood transfusions, the chemical has to have a high enough dose to produce the effects in another individual, Oehme said.
"Blood will have a little bit of the chemical in it, but by the time it's diluted through the body with all the blood, and by the time it goes to the liver, kidneys, brain, and is causing the effects to make someone sick, the amount that's in the blood is going to be relatively small and would not be enough to give the same dose.
"Blood will have a little bit of the chemical in it, but by the time it's diluted through the body with all the blood, the amount that's in the blood is going to be relatively small," he said.
"It's kind of like a person who is drunk," Oehme added. "If you take a blood transfusion from a person that's drunk you would probably not get drunk, because the concentration in the blood is not high enough to reflect a drunken attitude in you.
"If people are making that claim, they have to indicate that there is an infectious organism present," said Oehme, "a disease caused by a bacteria or virus, rather than chemical cause.
"To my knowledge I have not seen evidence or research that has been done to indicate that a microorganism like a bacteria or virus could produce the clinical neurological effects that have been described," he said. "Because of the very character of the syndrome I would not expect to have an infectious nature to this Gulf War syndrome."
Prepared by Robyn Horton. For questions, contact Fred Oehme at (913) 532-4334.