Somatic Symptoms in Gulf War Mortuary Workers

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ObjectiveThe objective of this article is to examine the relationship between exposures to the dead and the development of somatic symptoms.MethodsWe studied the pre-post responses of 352 military men and women who worked in the mortuary that received the dead from the Persian Gulf War (Operation Desert Storm) in 1990 to 1991. Symptoms of somatization were measured before and after exposure to the dead. The respondents were volunteers and nonvolunteers for assignment to the mortuary; some had prior experience in handling the dead and some did not. Four groups of participants were examined based on the degree of exposure to remains. Age, sex, volunteer status, prior experience handling remains, and preexposure measures of depression and mutilation fear were statistically controlled.ResultsPostexposure somatic symptoms increased significantly over preexposure levels for the two groups with the most exposure to the dead.ConclusionsThese results provide additional evidence that exposure to the dead is related to somatic distress.

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