Gulf War Syndrome, the mysterious collection of illnesses that has struck thousands of veterans of the 1991 war, now appears to be contagious.
An ongoing survey of 1,200 veterans conducted by Sen. Donald Riegle, D-Mich., for a Senate committee has found that the disease has spread from afflicted veterans to 78 percent of their wives, 25 percent of offspring born before the war and 65 percent born since.
A spokesman for Riegle said the survey's significance is that it shows that the syndrome "is transmissible and that it rules out some of the possible causes. . . . Our focus is on chemical or biological agents."
The Pentagon has not been able to find scientific evidence that the syndrome is contagious, said a spokesman, Lt. Col. Doug Hart.
Of the 697,000 U.S. soldiers sent to the region in 1991, about 29,000 have signed onto the Department of Veterans Affairs Gulf War registry, a list of veterans similar to a registry compiled for those affected by Agent Orange.
Veterans suffer disparate symptoms such as fatigue, rashes, joint pain and digestive problems.