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Has this man conquered Gulf War Syndrome?

Has this man conquered Gulf War Syndrome?
Maj. Mike Chagaris led a team of medical professional to unravel the mysteries of Gulf War Syndrome. (Photo by Craig Roberts)

Maj. Michael J. Chagaris emphasizes that he didn’t do it to save humanity. The Fort Bragg company commander and registered nurse makes it clear that his four-year campaign to find the cause of and cure for Gulf War Syndrome (GWS) – also known as Gulf War Illness (GWI) – was driven by a desire to rid himself of the chronic fatigue, weakness, pain and distress that had plagued him since he finished an evening meal in Iraq back in 2007.

Now, however, Chagaris wants the world to know what he calls his “incredible team” of health-care professionals have learned about one of the most baffling diseases to have ever plagued soldiers and veterans. “Considering how I felt for just a few years, it is unimaginable to what some have been going through for, maybe, 20 years. I want them to know about this," he said.

“This”, as it happens, is Immunoglobulin M and Immunoglobulin G Seronegative Q Fever, a variant of a disease so common in the Middle East that is passes through native children largely unnoticed with fewer symptoms, if any, than those exhibited in American kids polka dotted with measles or chicken pox. Q Fever in a western adult, most especially certain military veterans, is a different matter, however. For them, the consequences of infection can cause a lifetime of serious sickness and suffering for which there has been no cure.

Chagaris presented his findings to attendees of The American Legion Washington Conference on Feb. 25. His talk and accompanying slide show was necessarily brief and greatly simplified, but boils down basically to this: GWI or GWS, at least in Chagaris’ case, is caused by a bacterium called Coxiella Burnetii. This germ proliferates in the waste and birth products, such as the placenta, of animals that commonly share space, including living quarters, with people in areas of Southwest Asia such as Iraq and Afghanistan. The bacterium is extremely hardy and can survive in the soil for weeks, months, even years. It contaminates clothing, water and food and is so powerful that the invasion of even one bacterium can cause illness. It is stealthy and hides inside the infected person’s cells, thus evading detection and resisting treatment.

In Chagaris’ case, the infection apparently came via a meal in Iraq. In fact, the Army soldier at first suspected he’d suffered food poisoning or had simply eaten something that didn’t agree with him. But, his symptoms didn’t go away after a couple of days, or even a couple of weeks. In time, he experienced – as he lists on a PowerPoint slide -- weakness, fatigue, joint pain , difficulty sleeping, gastrointestinal distress, vision disturbance, skin rash, swelling of spleen and liver, low blood platelet count (causing internal bleeding), leg pain and memory problems.

Over the years, some of these symptoms would come and go, Chagaris said, but the weakness and fatigue were constant. Assembled, this collection of GWI and GWS symptoms affect as many as a quarter of a million military veterans and have been reported by deployed troops today.

As thousands have, Chagaris sought medical help. At first, no effective treatment was offered because health-care professionals simply did not know the cause of his distress. Predictably, and commonly, a couple of doctors came to the conclusion that Chagaris’ problems were in his head. “But,” he says, “I knew that a psychosomatic illness couldn’t make by liver and spleen swell.”

Doggedly, Chagaris pursued the disease, building a small network of health-care professionals who, through aggressive research, determination and an extraordinary bit of luck, tracked down the bad guy germ and -- equally importantly – the fact that military personnel’s common exposure to certain chemicals such as Pyridostygmine Bromide (a nerve agent antidote), Permethrin (an insecticide), DEET (the insect repellent) and JP-8 fuel made bad matters worse, causing the disease to remain undetectable and, thus, resistant to treatment.

In the end, Chagaris and his team, including a “fantastic” practitioner at the VA medical center in Durham, N.C., and a “terrifically talented” private physician in Alexandria, La., unraveled the mystery, identifying the mysterious culprit as Q Fever. Accordingly, in January 2011, Chagaris began following the Centers for Disease Control protocol for the disease and began an 18-month course of two antibiotics taken in tandem.  Relief came quickly, and he has remained disease free since.

Chagaris is now campaigning to “get the word out” about his experience and the findings of his medical team. He strongly encourages Gulf War and OIF/OEF veterans suffering from long-term, unexplained, multi-symptom illness to “have a conversation with your doctor about this” and health-care professionals to read his peer-reviewed medical paper on the subject. It was published last year in the Journal of Special Operations Medicine and it titled: “Chagaris, M.J., Smith, R.C., Goldstein, A.L. (2012), Immunoglobulin M and Immunoglobulin G Seronegative Q Fever: A Hypothesis for Veterans’ Medically Unexplained Chronic Multi-symptom Illnesses. Journal of Special Operations Medicine.”

Last August, Chagaris made his presentation to the Department of Defense Medical Health System Research Symposium. To date, no medical experts have found fault with the findings. “In science,” says the again-healthy soldier, “the absence of disproof is proof.”

More in Washington Conference


Rick Harrison, MSgt, USAF (Ret.)

July 17, 2015 - 6:36pm

I have responded well to 300mg doxycycline treatment since 1998, so I do believe that some Gulf vets have a germ form of illness. Microbiologist Garth Nicolson, PhD found several germs while studying ill vets returning from the first Gulf War, including his daughter who was in Air Assault and came down with the illness. Q Fever may be part of the problem, or perhaps a recent addition, but it is not the whole story.

Terry Stamper

March 2, 2015 - 6:04pm

Lets consider something here ladies and gentlemen cynics. The symptoms of seronegative q fever are EXTREMELY similar to the symptoms of Gulf War Illness. If Gulf War Illness were viral, chemical or nuclear in nature then patients being treated for their illness would NOT respond to treatment with antibiotics. If they do respond and can gain a better quality of life then Mr. Chagaris' hypothesis deserves consideration. I started on treatment of doxycycline alone and had more energy and clarity of thought with ten days of treatment than I have had in the twenty four years since the war. I have since relapsed in part due to not being on the doxycycline longer than ten days. Mr. Chagaris' asserts that hydroxychloroquine helps the doxycycline treat the bacteria because it resides within an acidic vacuole inside the host cell. I have EVERY intention of pursuing this course of treatment and if it works like I believe it will, I will let you know. I would rather try something than nothing. Interestingly, this course of treatment is the same as the treatment for many other mycoplasmic infections so, in my opinion whether the bacteria is Coxiella Burnetti or some other bacterium no one even knows about, I'll take my chances that my condition will improve. I have nothing to lose but the extreme exhaustion I have had for twenty four years since the war. Thank You Dr. Smith and Mr. Chagaris for this encouraging postulate.

Aidan Walsh

August 12, 2015 - 7:32pm

Terry have you started this protocol with the 2 antibiotics mentioned above & if yes have you continued for the 18 total moths which is the CDC requirement for Chronic Q Fever infection...Please let me know I have thought about doing this full course protocol myself...Has anyone else heard anymore about this Soldier is he still fully recovered or did he simply relapse after stopping these medicines? I also believe in Garth & Nancy Nicolson's work on Mycoplasmas with Doxycycline treatmets...I am also hearing now that these fatigue illnesses are actually 'undiagnosed' Ehlers Danlos Syndrome type(s)with their numerous complications...A genetic Born mutation of Collagen deficiency the bodies 'Glue' See Wikipedia Ehlers Danlos Syndrome & EDS U.K. website...EDS runs also in families it can be passed on from either or both Parents there are numerous types the Vascular is the most serious all are Chronic, the Hypermobility type has no genetic blood test plus some can be found in muscle skin biopsies some reports out MCAD Mast Cell Activation Disorder Dr Anne Maitland Immunologist New York is involved 2 tests at home can be done online called 1.Breighton Score 2. Beighton Score also some EDS types have 'crossovers' & MRI Brain Spine Supine tests are useless standing/upright MRI is best to detect abnormalities...Also some EDS can have as well 'partial incomplete' Marfans Syndrome or they do not have EDS they have 'full' Marfans Syndrome there is also a Measurement Scale online for Marfans it also is classified as a connective tissue disorder as well as EDS it involves an Aorta problem this could also be this Soldiers original diagnosis above that could be possible...Some patients report SIBO success plus on Youtube Dr Mark Hyman MD USA treats IBS now successfully he mentions a Woman sick 33 years recovering plus elimination diets Milk, Corn, Gluten, Starch etc etc he is using a certain antibiotic short term with Fungal medicine & good bacteria supplements as well...Be well soon blesses to all the Vets who are ill now I wish all of them a speedy Cure recovery soon...

Mike Moss

May 7, 2014 - 12:17pm

Good for him. What about the rest of us as the article mentioned that have been suffering for over 20 years? Why do medical professionals rely solely on blood tests that are unremarkable/normal and say we "have nothing abnormal"? Why do the medical professionals refuse to put GWI/GWS in our medical records? I have been on the Gulf War registry for over 15 years. However, the Veterans Benefit Administration (VBA) does not acknowledge this for service-connected disability. I would like to know more about this treatment and the treatment for the Mitochondrial failure-disease that has been linked to GWI/GWS through research at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine. Is anyone getting care for this?

Kerry Fuller

April 27, 2014 - 9:40am

So by the articles own admission he was suffering from Q fever not Gulf War Illness as first stated. This article is misleading in it's claims in the very least. If not down right fraudulent. Utter drivel and whoever released this article should be ashamed!.

Jennifer L. Smith

June 2, 2014 - 3:42pm

Agreed, Kerry; The answer to the question posed is a resounding 'NO.' I appreciate the article, especially regarding the chance of Q Fever being responsible for some illness/affects, but Q fever does not explain all or possibly even most GWI conditions. It is something that should definitely be explored but shame on the writer for even using such a byline when so many of us are suffering and desperate for an answer. Meanwhile, we wait for the VA to give us proper ratings and treatment for GWI, per law and policy, and are generally left disappointed (and on appeal) as we die by inches.


May 13, 2013 - 6:44pm

Is he still well without relapse? When are trials now going to begin and where?

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