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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2006 Apr 29;361(1468):681-7.

Immunological dysfunction, vaccination and Gulf War illness.

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  • 1Department of Immunobiology, King's College London, School of Medicine at Guy's, UK.


One candidate cause of Gulf War illness is vaccination against infectious diseases including medical counter-measures against biological weapons. One influential theory has suggested that such mass-vaccination caused a shift in immune response to a Type 2 cytokine pattern (Th2), which it was suggested was accompanied by a chronic fatigue syndrome-like illness. This article critically appraises this theory. We start by examining epidemiological evidence, which indicates that single vaccines are unlikely to be a substantial cause of Gulf War illness, but that there was a modest relationship with multiple vaccines, which was strongest in those vaccinated while deployed to the Gulf. These relationships may be affected by recall bias. We conclude by examining the results of immunological studies carried out in veterans or in a relevant setting in vitro. The balance of evidence from immunological studies on veterans returning from the War, including those developing multi-symptom illness, is that the immune response has not become polarized towards Th2. In summary, the epidemiological evidence for a multiple vaccine effect on Gulf War-related illness remains a potentially important aetiological lead, but mechanistic studies available at this stage do not identify any immunological basis for it.

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