By Nic Fleming
Babies whose fathers served in the first Gulf war are 50 per cent more likely to have physical abnormalities than those born to soldiers not sent to the region, according to a study published today.
Increased risks of genital, urinary and renal abnormalities and deformed limbs, bones and muscles were found in the Ministry of Defence-funded survey.
Of 13,191 pregnancies among the partners of male Gulf veterans, 686, or 5.2 per cent, had some form of physical abnormality, compared with 342, or 3.5 per cent, of the 9,758 non-Gulf pregnancies.
Miscarriages were also 40 per cent more common in the pregnancies of wives and partners of male veterans deployed in the conflict.
Female veterans were found to have no increased risk of suffering miscarriages.
The six-year study, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, found no strong link between service in the Gulf and chromosome, heart and nervous system damage in the offspring of veterans or of stillbirths.
Dr Pat Doyle, the epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who led the study, called for close monitoring of babies born to British troops sent to Iraq last year.
Malcolm Hooper, the emeritus professor of medicinal chemistry at Sunderland University and an adviser to the veterans, said: “The findings will be very worrying for them.
“I strongly endorse the call for further studies on those who served in Gulf war two.
“There are grave concerns and significant anecdotal evidence about the inability to sustain normal pregnancies as a result of Gulf service.”
Dr Doyle said the study was important, but warned against reading too much into the findings. “I believe our findings on renal problems and miscarriages are important and need to be investigated in greater detail,” she said.
She added that although “associations were found between fathers’ service in the Gulf war and increased risk of miscarriage and other malformations”, the findings should be interpreted cautiously because of recall bias, the potential uncertainty of results based on people’s memories.
Terry English, of the Royal British Legion, said:
“Anecdotal evidence from veterans has suggested a greater rate of miscarriage and this appears to be the first scientific evidence that confirms this.”
Of 53,000 British troops sent to the first Gulf war, about 630 have died and almost 6,000 have claimed war pensions.
A range of causes for the illnesses have been suggested including depleted uranium fallout from munitions, vaccinations administered and tablets taken before the conflict.
An MoD spokesman said: “It is important to note the researchers have cautioned that the findings may be susceptible to recall bias, and that it is a comparison with a control group in which miscarriage may have been under reported.
“Independent researchers and the military medicine health advisory group of the Medical Research Council have said that overall there is a lack of evidence to link reproductive health problems to service in the Gulf.”
Mandy Duncan, from Clackmannanshire, has had three children since her husband Kenny returned from the Gulf. Kenneth, nine, was born with deformed ears, constant headaches and needs special shoes.
Andrew, eight, wets his bed and has asthma. Heather, six, is partially deaf and suffers bowel and bladder problems.
Mrs Duncan said last night: “I don’t need a study to tell me my kids have been affected by Kenny’s Gulf service. I want to know what the Government is going to do about it.”
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