Health and Reproductive Outcomes among American Legionnaires in Relation to Combat and Herbicide Exposure in Vietnam

Stellman, Steven D.; Stellman, Jeanne M.; Sommer, Jr., John F.

History of diagnosed illnesses, medical symptoms, and reproductive outcomes and their relation to combat intensity and herbicide exposure were studied, via a mailed questionnaire, among 6810 American Legionnaires who served during the Vietnam War (42% in Southeast Asia, 58% elsewhere). Heart disease, venereal disease, and benign fatty tumors were reported significantly more often by Vietnam veterans than by controls. Combat intensity was significantly dosage-related to history of high blood pressure, ulcers, arthritis and rheumatism, genito-urinary problems, nervous system disease, major injury, hepatitis, and benign fatty tumors. Agent Orange exposure was significantly dosage-related to history of benign fatty tumors, adult ache, skin rash with blisters, and increased sensitivity of eyes to light. Rates of the latter two conditions and of change in skin color were especially elevated in men whose military occupations involved direct handling of herbicides. Five "symptom complex" scales were constructed via factor analysis to measure degrees of feeling faint, fatigue or physical depression, body aches, colds, and skin irritation. Means of all five scales were significantly higher in Vietnam veterans compared to controls, and in herbicide handlers compared to non-handlers. Both combat and Agent Orange exposure were significant, independent predictors of each of the five scales. Neither combat nor Agent Orange exposure was associated with difficulty in conception, time to conception of first child, or to birthweight or sex ratio of offspring, but maternal smoking was strongly related to reduced birthweight. The percentage of spouses' pregnancies which resulted in miscarriages was significantly higher for Vietnam veterans than controls (7.6% vs 5.5%, P & 0.001). Logistic regression analysis showed that Agent Orange exposure and maternal smoking were both independently and significantly associated with miscarriage rates in a dose-related manner.


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Health Policy and Management
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August 14, 2014