Press Release: 27 June 1997

Contact: Albert Donnay, 410-889-6666

MCS Referral & Resources, Baltimore

GAO Report Misses New VA-Funded Research

Showing 10% of Gulf War Veterans with Leishmaniasis

The new Government Accounting Office (GAO) report on Persian Gulf War Illnesses (GAO/NSIAD-97-163, available from http://www.gao.gov/new.items/newtitle.htm) says the prevalence of visceral (classic) and viscerotropic leishmaniasis in Gulf War veterans are both still "unknown." Given this lack of data, GAO criticizes the Presidential Advisory Committee (PAC) on Gulf War Veterans Illnesses for concluding that "the likelihood of Leishmania tropica (a parasite infection) as an important risk factor for widely reported illness has diminished."

Neither GAO or the PAC, apparently, are aware of new data from a VA-funded study that found evidence of Leishmania tropica infection in 10% of 102 randomly selected Gulf War veterans <1>. The evidence consists of a seropositive response to a synthetic peptide antigen that recognizes the L. tropica infection. The 10 veterans classified as "infected" had serotests greater than three standard deviations above the mean value of a control group. Six of the 10 had current symptoms of "unexplained illness," two had had such symptoms, and two did not.

These findings were reported to the VA in May 1997 by Dr. Peter Spencer, head of the VA's Oregon Environmental Hazards Research Center, but not released to the public until 16 June 1997 at the most recent meeting of the VA's Persian Gulf Expert Scientific Committee. (Other EHRC results showing even higher percentages of Gulf War veterans with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia Syndrome and Multiple Chemical Sensitivity are discussed in a press release issued by MCS Referral & Resources on 25 June 1997.)

Clearly, GAO was right to criticize the PAC for its premature dismissal of leishmaniasis as a risk factor. If Dr. Spencer's preliminary findings hold up, they suggest that tens of thousands of Gulf War veterans may be infected--with drastic implications for the safety of the nation's blood supply. At least until this important study is completed in September 1999, MCS Referral & Resources urges that the Red Cross and other public health authorities give serious consideration to a moratorium on blood donations by Gulf War veterans.

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<1> Dept. of Veterans Affairs. 1997. Environmental Hazards Research Centers' Annual Reports for 1996.



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