VETS BATTLE MYSTERY SICKNESS

9908131b.jpgA pointer to this Reuters article landed in my in-box with the subject "Gulf War II Syndrome?" That's probably a little premature. But this is weird, weird stuff, nonetheless.

An unexpectedly high number of U.S. soldiers injured in the Middle East and Afghanistan are testing positive for a rare, hard-to-treat blood infection in military hospitals, Army doctors reported on Thursday.A total of 102 soldiers were found to be infected with the bacteria Acinetobacter baumannii. The infections occurred among soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany and three other sites between Jan. 1, 2002, and Aug. 31, 2004.Although it was not known where the soldiers contracted the infections, the Army said the recent surge highlighted a need to improve infection control in military hospitals.Eighty-five of the bloodstream infections occurred among soldiers serving in Iraq, the area around Kuwait and Afghanistan, the U.S. Army said in a report published on Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.Military hospitals typically see about one case per year.
If there is a Gulf War II syndrome, it may have the same roots as the mystery illness that struck the veterans of Gulf War I: depleted uranium, or D.U. That's the ultra-hard, apparently toxic material American forces have been using for years in their anti-tank shells.This month's Vanity Fair chronicles how soldiers who have been exposed to the stuff in Iraq have been coming back in bad, bad shape.
At first, Terry merely had the usual headaches, body pain, oozing rash, and other symptoms. But later he began to suffer from another symptom which afflicts some of those exposed to D.U.: burning semen. "If he leaked a little lubrication from his penis, it would feel like sunburn on your skin... In England, Malcolm Hooper, professor emeritus of medicinal chemistry at the University of Sunderland, is aware of 4,000 such cases. He hypothesizes that the presence of D.U. may be associated with the transformation of semen into a caustic alkali."It hurt [Terry] too. He said it was like forcing it through barbed wire," Riordon says. "It seemed to burn through condoms; if he got any on his thighs or his testicles, he was in hell." In a last, desperate attempt to save their sex life, says Riordon, "I used to fill condoms with frozen peas and insert them [after sex] with a lubricant." That, she says, made her pain just about bearable. Perhaps inevitably, he became impotent. "And that was like our last little intimacy gone."By late 1995, Terry was seriously deteriorating. Susan shows me her journal-she titled it "The Twilight Zone"-and his medical record. It makes harrowing reading. He lost his fine motor control to the point where he could not button his shirt or zip his fly. While walking, he would fall without warning. At night, he shook so violently that the bed would move across the floor. He became unpredictably violent: one terrible day in 1997 he attacked their 16-year-old son and started choking him. By the time armed police arrived to pull him off, the boy's bottom lip had turned blue. After such rages, he would fall into a deep sleep for as long as 24 hours, and awake with no memory of what had happened...Even after he died, on April 29, 1999, Terry's Canadian doctors remained unable to explain his illness. "This patient has a history [of] 'Gulf War Syndrome' with multiple motor, sensory and emotional problems," the autopsy report by pathologist Dr. B. Jollymore, of Yarmouth, begins. "During extensive investigation, no definitive diagnosis has been determined.... Essentially it appears that this gentleman remains an enigma in death as he was in life."
The article never quite gets around to what D.U. exposure really does to a man. Is it burning semen? Bone cancer? Psychotic breaks? Lung problems? All of the above? But the amount of stories and studies accumulated leads to only one conclusion: that D.U. is somehow linked to a whole bunch of soldiers getting sick. And the Pentagon doesn't seem to be in any particular hurry to figure out why.THERE'S MORE: D.U. was also used extensively in Bosnia and Kosovo, Mike Davis points out. And there seems to be "no difference in the symptoms of those infected in the Balkans as those in Iraq from the first Persian Gulf War." But the Pentagon isn't impressed. This 2001 study says there's no link between D.U. and leukemia.For a history of soldiers coming home sick, Defense Tech pal Ryan Singel recommends The Wages of War: When America's Soldiers Came Home.
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