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Study Shows Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) More Common Than Breast Cancer, Lung Cancer and HIV

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By By: Dr. William C. Reeves • • October 13, 1998

The following is an excerpt from a report by Dr. William C. Reeves at the Department of Health and Human Services Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Coordinating Committee meeting on October 13, 1998. This portion of the update concerns a study of CFS prevalence done in Wichita, Kansas. Wichita was chosen because its population is demographically similar to the United States as a whole, in terms of age, race, ethnicity, sex and income. The CDC had previously estimated CFS prevalence in Wichita through a four-city Physician-Based Surveillance Study (1988- 1993).

At the April Coordinating Committee meeting I reviewed the basic study design of our population-based studies of fatiguing illness in Wichita, Kansas and discussed the current status of enrollment and follow-up. We have completed analysis of prevalence data and reported the results at the American Association for the CFS scientific meeting last weekend. As you may recall, the Wichita study used random digit dialing to obtain information on fatiguing illness from 90,000 people, almost a quarter of Wichita's population. Surveillance participants completed detailed screening interviews and clinical evaluations were performed to accurately classify fatigued subjects as CFS or other illness. The results were astonishing.

Fifty-three of the 300 patients who underwent clinical evaluation were found to have CFS. Expressing this in terms of the population, 248 per 100,000 adults 18-69 years of age in Sedgwick County (Wichita) Kansas have CFS. As we expected from other studies, women accounted for most of the cases. The prevalence of CFS was 404 per 100,000 adult women in Wichita. Almost all of these cases occurred in white women in whom the prevalence was 458 per 100,000. This study has sampled a defined population and estimated the magnitude of rigorously diagnosed CFS as a public health problem in the U.S.

To put this into perspective with other public health problems, CFS prevalence in women (303/100,000) is about a third that of diabetes (900) in women, about four times higher than HIV (125) in women, and considerably greater than female lung cancer (63), or breast cancer (113). Finally, only 8 (21%) of the 39 subjects we identified with CFS had been diagnosed with this illness. We are analyzing this (and other data from the study) in more detail to explore access to and utilization of health services by individuals with fatiguing illness.

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