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Is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Another Retroviral Disease?

Posted Oct 17 2009 10:03pm

retrovirus Here’s a surprising report in Science:

Studying peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from CFS patients, we identified DNA from a human gammaretrovirus, xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus (XMRV), in 68 of 101 patients (67%) compared to 8 of 218 (3.7%) healthy controls … These findings raise the possibility that XMRV may be a contributing factor in the pathogenesis of CFS.

I confess, I had never even heard of “xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus” (wow that’s a mouthful) before this report, but apparently virologists have been aware of it for some time, due to a possible association with prostate cancer.

The story behind the Whittemore Peterson Institute reporting these findings is almost as interesting as the paper itself.  From their web site:

In September of 2004, a group of dedicated citizens and clinicians proposed the concept of a medical institute for the millions of patients in the US suffering from the disorders known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS), fibromyalgia and other closely related illnesses. They were concerned by the lack of available doctors to understand and serve the growing numbers of patients with these complex chronic illnesses.

According to the coverage of the story in the Times, the Institute got its start with a several million dollar donation from Annette and Harvey Whittemore, whose child has been suffering from CFS for over twenty years.  The Times piece goes on to quote Dr. William Reeves from CDC, who sounds quite skeptical about the findings.

“We and others are looking at our own specimens and trying to confirm it,” he said, adding, “If we validate it, great. My expectation is that we will not.”

My take on all this?  Despite our being down this road before on CFS — EBV, HHV-6, candida, enterovirus, parainfluenza, Lyme, to list a few putative causes — without much to show for it scientifically, I’m all for having multiple groups working on trying to find the cause of this awful disorder, even if it seems likely that there is more than one cause.

And judging from some of the pained, angry, and frustrated comments posted here, I’m clearly not alone.

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