Gulf War syndrome

Other Names:
Desert fever

Scientists have not been able to agree there is any such thing as "Gulf War Syndrome," the name given a collection of brain disorders, nervous system breakdowns, joint and muscle pain, skin rashes, diarrhoea, fatigue, mood changes, concentration problems and other maladies reported by thousands of veterans of the Gulf War in the Middle East which ended in 1991. Some veterans have suggested they are sick from breathing in smoke and contaminants when Iraqis set oil well fires. Some say it might have been tablets they took to protect themselves from nerve gas, or depleted uranium used in new armour-piercing US weaponry, or nerve gas released when they exploded and destroyed Iraqi chemical weapons stockpiles, or exotic infections, drugs and vaccines.


There is one report of a group of people exposed to nerve gas who developed symptoms quite similar to those of Gulf War Syndrome. These were 129 Germans who worked in munitions factories and made many kinds of chemical weapons, including sarin and tabun, after the start of World War II. In 1963, a scientist named U. Spiegelberg reported on his examination of them. The great majority, he wrote, "showed persistently lowered vitality", "headache, gastrointestinal and cardiovascular symptoms" and other problems, including an "impression of premature aging". Because the workers had all held their jobs at least two years, their poison exposure almost certainly was far greater than any that might have occurred in the Gulf. Despite those differences, this is the best evidence that the constellation of symptoms some veterans report could conceivably arise from nerve gas.

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has set the permissible internal dose of U-238 at 0.19 milligrams per day for the general public. For employees at nuclear-related facilities, the limit is 2 milligrams.


It was reported in 2001 that of more than 540,000 Americans deployed at the peak of the fighting in the Persian Gulf, some 117,000 have signed up for special examinations. Some 21,000 have symptoms that have not been explained. In Britain, advocates say 6,000 of the 31,000 who served are similarly ill. In France, the government agreed in September 2000 to study the problem. It is unclear how many French veterans are sick, but officials say 300 of the 25,000 who went to the Gulf have asked for pensions related to the illnesses.

After spending $300 million on scores of studies, the US Department of Defense said in 2001 that it has found no scientific evidence that conclusively points to any cause.

Similar symptoms are being reported by veterans of the war in Bosnia.

Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being
Problem Type:
G: Very specific problems
Date of last update
25.09.2019 – 17:41 CEST