ALS more frequent in Gulf War vets, study indicates
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Preliminary evidence shows Gulf War veterans are twice as likely as non-deployed veterans to develop Lou Gehrig's disease, U.S. government researchers said Monday.
"These findings are of great concern and warrant further study," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony J. Principi. "I intend to make certain that VA's medical resources and research capabilities are fully focused on this issue."
The disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a fatal, neurological condition that destroys brain cells and spinal cord cells that control muscle movement. In advanced stages, patients often have extreme difficulty breathing when those muscle cells deteriorate. It has no known cause or cure.
The study looked at nearly 700,000 service members who were deployed Southwest Asia during Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and 1.8 million service members who were not deployed, Principi said. All were on active duty between August 2, 1990, and July 31, 1991.
"We found 40 cases of ALS among deployed veterans, almost twice as many as we would have expected compared to those who were on active duty during that period but did not serve in the Gulf," he said.
Principi said that while the preliminary study has not been peer reviewed, the Veterans Administration plans to compensate vets with ALS as quickly as possible. The VA says half of the service people deployed during Desert Shield and Desert Storm who developed ALS have already died.
In the United States, up to 95 percent of ALS cases occur sporadically; only 5 percent to 10 percent are associated with genetic abnormalities.
VA and Defense Department officials say they will continue their research to determine if there is a specific environmental agent that is causing the increased risk of ALS cases among Gulf War vets. They also plan to analyze DNA samples from veterans to look for clues.
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