Gulf War vets face elevated ALS risk

Two studies suggest that veterans of the 1991 Gulf War are at elevated risk of developing amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, the fatal neurodegenerative condition rarely strikes before age 50.

Researchers led by Ronnie D. Horner of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in Bethesda, Md., computed the difference in ALS risk between military personnel who were and weren’t deployed to the Persian Gulf region during the war. They found 40 ALS cases among nearly 700,000 deployed personnel and 67 cases among almost 1.8 million other personnel. In the Sept. 23 Neurology, the researchers report that soldiers deployed to the gulf were 1.92 times more likely to develop ALS in the decade following the conflict than if they had not been deployed.

In a second study in the same journal, Robert W. Haley of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas tracked down 17 veterans who were diagnosed with ALS by 1998 and before they had turned 45. Given the frequency of ALS among all U.S. residents under 45 and the number of war vets under that age during the Gulf War, he calculated that about 4 cases of ALS should have occurred among war vets between 1991 and 1994 and about 6 cases between 1995 and 1998. Those periods actually yielded 4 and 13 cases, respectively, suggesting that Gulf War service didn’t significantly contribute to ALS in the immediate postwar period but may have done so in more recent years.


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