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Korean Journal of Preventive Medicine 1994;27(4): 711-734.
A Preliminary Epidemiologic Study on Korean Veterans Exposed to Herbicides in Vietnam War.
Joung Soon Kim, Hyun Sul Lee, Hong Bok Lee, Won Young Lee, Young Joo Park, Sung Soo Kim
1Graduate School of Public Health, Seoul National University, Korea.
2Medical College, Dongkuk University, Korea.
3Seoul Veterans Administration Hospital, Korea.
4Medical College, Yonsei University, Korea.
Among chemical agents in herbicides, dioxin(2,3,7,8-tetrachloro dibenzo-rho-dioxin: a chemical contaminant in herbicides sprayed during the vietnam war has been known to be the major agent causing toxic effects. Approximately 320,000 korean soldiers participated the vietnam war from 1964 to 1974. Although the potential hazards of the herbicides among Korean veterans exposed were implicated, the problem had not been a public issue until 1991 when Korean veterans were informed U. S. companies, the herbicides manufacturer payed fund, from which a trust fund for New Zealand and Australian Class members were established in 1985. After a series of appeals and demonstration by the korean veterans demanding medical care and compensation for their serious health damages, a bill of medical care and compensation for herbicides victims was promulgated in March 1993 and become effective from May 1993. This study was carried out with two major objectives: the first to understand the health problems caused from the herbicides by reviewing literatures published, and the second to examine the nature and extent of health impacts among Korean veterans exposed and to develop valid study methods for the major study by interviewing and reviewing records on a part of veterans (638 persons) registered and completed medical examination in Seoul Veterans Administration Hospital from June to october 1993. The results obtained are as follows: 1. The literature review of 107 papers revealed that: l) Dioxin is teratogenic, carcinogenic and affects almost all organs including nertous, endocrine, and reproductive systems in animal experiments. 2) The diseases showing evidence of causal association were Hodgkin's disease, non-Hodgkin's disease, lung cancer, lymphoma, soft tissue sarcoma, chloroacne and polyneuropathy when judged on the basis of consistency in study results and biological plausibility. 2. Interview and medical record review study on 638 veterans, though limited validity owing to lack of control group, crude estimates of dioxin exposure levels (no biomarkers measurable), and uncertainty of diagnosis, showed that: 1) Most of the study subject's were in their 40's of age and had been dispatched to vietnam during the period from 1965-1970 around one year. 2) Most frequently complained symptoms in medical examination were motor weakness(32%), sensory abnormalities in extremities(23%), skin diseases(22%), and pain in extremities(20%) whereas in interview they were more frequent in order of skin problem(44%), motor weakness (38%), sensory abnormalities and pain in extremities(l7% and 19% each). Kappa indices on the same category of complaints between two sources of information were variable and relatively low. 3) On medical examination, only a part of the 638 subjects had initial impression (442 pts) and final diagnosis (218 pts) suggesting decision making on diagnosis appeared to be difficult even with all available modern medical technologies; in initial impression disorders from peripheral and central neuropathy were predominant whereas in final diagnosis various types of skin disorder were most frequent. 4) when dose-response relationship between several conditions (from questionnaire) and arbitrary exposure scores were examined by CMH linear trend test, spontaneous abortion, sexual problems and health problem of offsprings showed statistically significant linear trends. However, pregnancy, accident and suicidal attempts did not show any relationship in this study capacity. 5) Among complaints, psychosis and neurosis(anxiety, phobia) in interview study, and memory disorder and psychosis in medical record study revealed linear trend. 6) Skin disorder was the only condition showing linear trend in initial impression and none in final diagnosis on medical examination. Even though objective to select out dioxin-related disease or group of diseases from this study was not achieved the research experiences provided firm basis for developing various methodological approaches. 3. From this preliminary study we concluded that a larger scale major epidemiologic study on health impacts of herbicides among Korean veterans exposed is not only indispensible but also well designed study with more valid exposure information and diagnosis may be able to establish causal relationship between certain groups of diseases and exposure to the herbicides among Korean veterans.
Key words: preliminary study; herbicide exposure; Korean veterans; health impacts; dose-response relationship
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