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Under the microscope: Sulfur mustard

This month: Sulfur mustard


What is sulfur mustard?

A type of chemical warfare agent, more commonly known as mustard gas, that causes severe, delayed burns to the eyes, skin, and respiratory tract.

Has this been in the news?

Yes, a qualitative study has been published, which is based on in-depth interviews with 16 patients from Halabja in Iraq who were diagnosed with chronic pulmonary complications.

Presumably sulfur mustard was used in Halabja?

Yes, in the 1980s, it was used on a large scale in Iraq, with the most notorious and severe gas attacks against the city of Halabja, where some 5,000 people died and tens of thousands were injured.

What has this new study found?

The victims suffer from severely impaired health, both physical and mental. As well as respiratory problems, insomnia, fatigue and eye problems, they also have depressive symptoms, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and post-traumatic stress disorder.

What impact does that have on their social and work life?

The scientists refer to “chemical contamination anxiety” – a powerful reaction to exposure that has limited victims’ family lives, social relations and work capacity. Unemployment and loss of social capital have, in turn, led to social isolation.

What needs to be done now?

Holistic care of the victims and detection of their somatic and mental ill-health are vital. Also, hundreds of gassing victims migrated to Sweden, and may need care and monitoring.


Image credit | iStock

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