A new study suggests that stress played a major role in the deaths of Israelis during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, when Israel was under attack by Scud missiles fired by Iraq.
The report, published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that the death rate soared when the Scuds began to fall.
The team of three researchers from Hadassah Medical School involved in the study found that the actual death toll on Jan. 18, 1991 — the day of the first Iraqi attack — was 147. That figure represents in incidence of death 58 percent higher than the same day the previous year, even though no one was directly hit by a missile.
The researchers stressed that they had no definitive answers regarding the causes of death, but added it was likely that tensions connected to the war could have been a factor.
“There are a number of possibilities,” one of the researchers, Dr. Leon Epstein, told Israel Radio. “This was a very stressful period. People were worried about an unknown possibility.
“It is known that stress can provoke heart attacks,” he added. “Also, there could have been breathing problems connected to using the (gas) masks in sealed rooms.”
During the Persian Gulf War, Israelis took refuge in sealed rooms, fearing that the Scud missiles launched by Iraq against the Jewish state may have contained poison gas.
Altogether, Iraq fired 39 missiles at Israel on 17 separate days between Jan. 18 and Feb. 25, 1991. The attacks caused extensive property damage and more than 1,000 injuries, but only two deaths as a result of direct hits, the study said.