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VA Doctor Uncovers New Medical Theory

Author: T. J Moriarity
Document Dated: January 1, 1996
Date Posted: January 19, 1997


Many Persian Gulf War veterans are apparently suffering from a chronic form of brain stem encephalitis-a brain stem encephalopathy, not PTSD, according to a promising new study by William F. Baumzweiger, MD. "I'm very familiar with PTSD patients and their symptoms. These veterans have too many conditions to be suffering from PTSD." A combination of exposures to bio-hazards in the Gulf and multiple vaccinations are a few of the core ingredients of potential causes in his examinations.

What is brain stem encephalitis?

Brain stem encephalitis is an inflammatory disturbance of the brains central control mechanisms--more commonly referred to as an organic brain disorder. It is frequently caused by brain tumors, radiation to the head, use of chemotherapy agents for cancer and most importantly for this study of Persian Gulf Patients--the exposure to toxins and multiple vaccinations. Increasingly these effects are cumulative, that is the more one is exposed to the source, the more the effects are seen.

Brain stem encephalitis is a well known and not uncommon illness while brain stem encephalopathy is distinctly less common, but it appears to Dr. Baumzweiger to be a new syndrome. An abnormality in blood pressure regulation is one of the central tenets to his research--also focus of another study relating to chronic fatigue syndrome published recently in the Journal of American Medical Association. He says the symptoms have a subtlety that can be easily overlooked or mistakenly identified as being purely psychiatric in nature. Diagnoses of PTSD or general depression are most commonly recorded. For many of the Persian Gulf War veterans I've personally spoken with as a reporter, this evidence is bittersweet news--a blend of relief and fear. Relief that their medical complaints are being scientifically verified by some doctors, coupled with fear of what this medical news could mean to their lives.

Veteran Debbie Judd, a former nurse on the front line in the Gulf says she's "tired of hearing it's all in my head and that I'm not sick. Many of us are very sick." Debbie heads the Northern Carolina Association of Gulf vets. "The VA keeps sending me to the counseling clinics for my symptoms." "I'm not depressed, I'm ill," says Dean Lundholm, an Army veteran from Santa Cruz. Dean says he suffered a "chemically induced coma" for three days while serving in the Gulf. "Something happened over there to all of us--some more than others--because of exposure to dangerous and unknown chemicals." Baumzweiger indicates what he calls "significant evidence" of immune disregulation in the central nervous system of affected vets. "They seem to be suffering from heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature abnormalities. These can in turn be related to a chronic immune disorder in the brain." He has linked these symptoms to a cytokine, "Interlukin 2," which he says erases the long standing and much cherished line between neurological and psychiatric disease. In other words, their problems are "just in their heads" but medically, not emotionally.

At the Wadsworth VA in West LA, Dr. Baumzweiger, a Psychiatrist and a Neurologist, studied the medical, psychiatric, neurological, neurobehavioral, laboratory and MRI results of ten Gulf War veterans. These particular veterans were referred to him because they were diagnosed as having symptoms relating to their combat experience--suggesting emotional problems.

Here are a number of ways in which brain stem encephalitis can be brought on:

  • closed head trauma
  • epilepsy
  • viral infections of the central nervous system
  • toxic environmental exposures
  • reactions to a number of medications
  • sometimes even by severe stress
  • Flagyl, a common antibiotic, can have toxic effects in predisposed patients in causing encephalitis.

Obviously, these potential causes add up to a number of patients , military and non- military who may suffer this malady around the world. In cases of Gulf War Personnel though, there is a more specific progression according to Baumzweiger.

In his findings, he also deals with the possible "triggers" for encephalitis in Persian Gulf veterans--with intriguing hypotheses related to chemical exposure. There are two widely published, but unconfirmed reports that many persons, Allied and Iraqi, in the area of the Gulf were exposed to at least low levels of chemical warfare agents, toxins, or even perhaps radiation during the 1991 conflict.

It is no secret, if one believes the hundreds of reports by enlisted personnel and media accounts, that chemical and radiation detectors were "sounding off" registering the presence of chemical warfare or "poison gas", but soldiers were categorically told to disregard them. Baumzweiger, quoting the work of James Tuite that hundreds of tons of neurotoxins and bacterial toxins were forward positioned in the Gulf, on SCUD missiles and hand held rocket launchers that were fired into Israel and Saudi Arabia. "The Czechoslovakians documented the presence of a nerve gas, Sarin, in the area. There is good evidence that the attacks by the US Air Force on Iraqi gas production facilities released large quantities of poison gas, and good evidence that released gas would have been blown by the winds into the theater of operations for all the combatants," says Tuite. Basically, some of the most hazardous toxins known to man such as the known mutagen dimethylhydrazine (DMII) and Di-Iso-Flouro-Phosphate (DFP). "when we talk about the Persian Gulf War, and everything that has evolved from it , we are talking about one of the strangest wars in history. It was bizarre in so many ways. We lost, according to most reports, a minute number of men to combat inflicted injury. Despite excellent medical care and extreme precaution against biological and chemical attack, large numbers of American GI's developed acute unexplained symptoms, and have gone on to develop what appears to be one or more chronic and debilitating disorders."

His clinical evidence states that the symptoms associated with Persian Gulf illness appear to be caused by abnormalities in the hypothalamus portion of the brain, which controls many bodily functions. When the hypothalamus malfunctions patients can experience chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, peripheral neuropathy, arthritic esthesiopathy, chronic diarrhea and bloating, and respiratory problems. "In terms of neuropsychiatric phenomena they have memory problems decreased cognitive ability, agitation, compulsive behaviors and obsessive thoughts, vulnerability to mental destabilization and a generally minimal stress tolerance. In my own experience they have subtle but consistent neurological problems like clumsiness, visual disturbance and attention difficulties."

What tends to disguise a correct diagnosis, Baumzweiger says, is that Persian Gulf veterans have "a mixture of symptoms that reflect classic organic mental disorder and classic elements of functional thought. At times they appear quite like PTSD or borderline personality." Interestingly, 5 of his patients also tested positive for "Epstein Barr", a sign of what is now known as a trigger for endogenous retroviral activation. Human endogenous retroviruses, or HERV's, can be activated by a number of factors. Studies are now emerging that show when HERV's are activated, the immune system can become imbalanced. It is believed by some that controlling HERV's may lead to more effective management of chronic diseases such as Gulf War Related illness and AIDS.

Baumzweiger says that key to understanding the full story of Persian Gulf Illness is to understand that neuroimmune, neuroendocrine, and autonomic systems that have all been affected, and to understand how they have been affected which he intrinsically details in volumes of research literature.

A series of laboratory and examination results on vital statistics point to several common indicators:

  • Patients all have a significant increase in blood pressure upon either getting up or lying down, depending on the individuals case.
  • They all have a significant increase in heart rate on standing up.
  • Ten out of the fifteen had hypotension, a fall in blood pressure when standing up while two had an increase in blood pressure when standing up.
  • They had unstable body temperature when they were experiencing their symptoms most severely.

Can Persian Gulf Illness cause death?

He brings up a very controversial point. However, one of Dr. Baumzweiger's patients, after spending ten hours out in the sun recreationally, collapsed and nearly died of respiratory failure.

After extensive testing, Baumzweiger came to the conclusion that dysregulation of normal bodily function, such as sleeping, body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, etc., in theses cases is disturbed with exposure to the sun. "This dysregulation of bodily functions, sleep patterns and hormonal patterning would involve the hypothalamus, which controls all these functions."

At present, little can be done medically so in the mean time he says, it is very important for any symptomatic veteran who has been exposed to the environment in the Persian Gulf to: Avoid exposure to heat and to excessive light, especially sunlight. Sunscreens will probably not help protect against an exacerbation of symptoms. Get as much sleep as possible, preferably more than eight hours a night. If you have definite symptoms of PGS it is probably best not to give blood, to use safe sex techniques with significant others until more is known about the potential transmittability if the "illness."

Baumzweiger summarizes what he calls a disruption of three basic mechanisms seen in Persian Gulf Illness; a calcium channel disorder, a disorder of CNS Lymphocyte development, and a problem with reactivation of latent retroviruses.


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