Anti-HIV mix found in Gulf Veterans
By Paul M. Rodriguez
The Washington Times - August 11, 1997
A synthetic chemical compound used in cutting-edge experimental inoculations against HIV has been discovered in the blood of some ailing Gulf War Veterans, according to Insight magazine.
Pentagon and U.S. government medical authorities say no such inoculations were administered during the Gulf War but offer no explanation for the presence of the compound called squalene in blood samples of hundreds of Gulf War veterans who claim to suffer from so-called Gulf War syndrome.
But these veterans, representing a cross-section of the uniformed services, including those who served overseas and those who never left the United States, say they were given unspecified or secret vaccinations.
Adding to the mystery is the inexplicable disappearance of as many as 700,000 service-related immunization records.
The new information about squalene, an adjuvent compound used to boost the effects of immunizations, comes from a four-month investigation into the origins of Gulf war illnessses by Insight, which is published by The Washington Times Corp.
Antibodies for this synthetic squalene were discovered in laboratory tests on hundreds of blood samples taken from the Gulf war soldiers, some who became sick after the conflict and others who have not.
These laboratory results, some of which have been separately reconfirmed (tests are continuing), show unusually high antibody levels for squalene, which should not show up in such tests.
Squalene as an adjuvant is a synthetic polymer that stimulates the body's immune responses when mixed with vaccines to make medications more effective. It is not approved for human use except in the most experimental tests overseen by the government in research or cures for illnesses, such as HIV and Herpes.
Government officials say emphatically that no experimental HIV immunization tests were conducted on the general military population. However, they say such tests have been conducted by military and government backed research laboratories on human volunteers. The tests have not been publicized but have been conducted over a period of several years.
Spokesmen from the Veterans Affairs Department, the National Institute of Health and the Department of Defense say they are unable to explain when asked why squalene shows up in the blood of sick soldiers who have been, or decline to answer questions about the phenomenon.
Timothy Gerrity, a senior official at the VA and the only top official investigating Gulf war illnesses willing to talk on the record, told Insight Magazine he "would be surprised" to find out that squalene is in the bloodstream's of ill soldiers. All vaccinations administered to the Gulf war soldiers are publicly known, he says, and that no immuno-stimulants were given to U.S. troops.
Mr. Gerrity says that if the trail tests showing squalene are confirmed, the government will investigate.
Congressional oversight panels, including the Senate and House Veterans Affairs committees, also plan to investigate the squalene revelations and redouble efforts to find still missing immunization records for hundreds of thousands of veterans.
Except for the work with a few cutting-edge pharmaceuticals-and then only with approval from federal authorities-only government agencies are involved in human experimental tests using adjuvants. Agencies authorized to conduct human experiments include the NIH Infectious Diseases and Allergy Center and the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
The NIH and Walter Reed facilities have been experimenting since at lest the 1980's with immunizations that could be effective against the HIV virus, which causes AIDS. Typically, the experimental "immunizations" are mixed with adjuvants--like squalene or alum--to provide a boost to experimental vaccines. Alum is the only U.S. approved adjuvant for general human use in a variety of vaccines and immunizations.
"I want to know how squalene, an adjuvant that's not supposed to be in these vets, got into those vets", says a leading medical specialist who studied lab results on blood samples taken from Gulf war personnel.
These tests, conducted at two prestigious laboratories that prefer not to be identified until further standardized double-blind testing is completed, surveyed fresh blood samples of 200 soldiers and another 200 blood samples drawn two to three years ago by the Defense Department from sick Gulf war veterans. The older blood samples were taken for unrelated tests.
In nearly three-quarters of the blood from both testing pools, tests showed positive for squalene antibodies.
The test results were similar to those from experimental test subjects in experimental HIV and sexually transmitted disease studies at the NIH. In these cases, the medications they received contained squalene.
How then, the researchers want to know, did the tested Gulf war soldiers get antibodies for an adjuvant whose only known use is experimental?
"We have found soldiers who are not sick that do not have the antibodies" says one of the independent laboratory scientists hired be Insight. "We found soldiers who never left the United States but who got the shots who are sick, and they have squalene in their systems. We found people who served overseas in various parts of the desert that are sick who have squalene, and we found people who served in the desert but were civilians who never got these shots[administered by the federal government]who are not sick and do not have squalene."
...In short, says a senior government official familiar with the new blood tests, "I can't tell you why it's there, but it is. And I can tell you this, too: the sicker an individual, the higher the level of antibodies for this[squalene]stuff."
...Theories about adjuvants were first advanced about two years ago by Pamela Asa, a Tennessee immunologist who specializes in auto-immune diseases and symptomatology. Military and civilian government authorities dismissed her charges at the time.
Air Force Col. Ed Koenigsberg, director of the Pentagon's Persian Gulf War Veterans' Illness Investigation Team, testified before the President's Advisory Committee on Persian Gulf Veterans Disease in October 1995 that theories such as Dr. Asa's were not plausible because no adjuvant other than alum adjuvants had been used on U.S. soldiers, and no secret immunizations were administered.
However, the military did commission a study of so-called "adjuvants disease" and possible unknown immunizations that may have been given Gulf war soldiers.
The study, prepared by the U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command and released in March 1996, concluded that the only vaccines and immunizations administered to soldiers were publicly known and were alum-based and that nothing but alum was used as an adjuvant.
But, as the General Accounting Office noted in a recently concluded study: "Six years after the war, little is conclusively known about the causes of Gulf war veterans' illnesses."
"None of the comments we received provide evidence to challenge our principle findings and conclusions that
(1) DoD and VA have no means to systematically determine whether symptomatic Gulf war veterans are better or worse today than when they were first examined and
(2) ongoing epidemiological research will not provide precise, accurate, and conclusive answers regarding the causes of the Gulf war veterans' illneses."
The only way, according to the GAO, for the government to begin finding out what's wrong with Gulf war veterans is to begin a comprehensive study of the patients, including high-tech laboratory work to explain, among other things, the presence of antibodies for squalene.