Congressional Testimony Smashes Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) Myths

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In sobering testimony at a May 12, 1995 Congressional Briefing, three prominent chronic fatigue syndrome experts provided information that smashes many earlier myths and misrepresentations about the syndrome, and revealed new information regarding the illness.

Dr. William Reeves, chief of Viral Exanthems and Herpes virus Branch at the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Dr. Anthony Komaroff of Harvard Medical School, and Oregon Health Sciences University CFS and AIDS researcher Dr. Mark Loveless provided information to the Congressional sponsors of the May 12 event.

The “Yuppie Flu” myth-that the typical CFS sufferer is white and middle class-was the first myth to be dispelled by physicians. They pointed to CDC studies indicating that CFS is very common in African American and Native American populations-more so, in fact, than in the white population. Further, the study reports that the average income of sufferers is $15,000 per year. The “Yuppie Flu” moniker was given to CFS because it was felt that the typical sufferer was white and middle class.

Of further interest is the statistic that the illness is felt to be much more prevalent now than in past years. According to current CDC estimates, 76 to 220 out of every 100,000 Americans have a CFS-like illness. The CDC originally estimated that only 4 to 9 cases per 100,000 existed.

These statistics have made CFS a top CDC priority. Officials at the Georgia-based center have recently added CFS to the “Priority-I New and Reemerging Infectious Diseases” list. This list also includes infections including uncontrolled E. coli and tuberculosis.

Testimony revealed significant information on the physical ramifications of the illness as well. Dr. Loveless, who has spent many years studying AIDS and CFS, states, “A CFS patient feels every day significantly the same as an AIDS patient feels two months before death.” This chilling commentary is supported by specific clinical data from research conducted at the Oregon Health Sciences University as well as the general opinions of other medical experts.

Dr. Kornaroff, principal investigator in a National Institute of Health funded CFS research center, discussed the serious brain damage found in many patients with CFS. It was suggested that this damage is what causes diverse body systems to malfunction.

Discussing the CDC’s initial study on CFS recovery rates, Dr. Reeves said “Only 12% of patients ever recover completely.” He clarified this comment, saying that the overall recovery rate might be as high as 45%. Chances for recovery diminish significantly after five years of illness.

In the last six months, the CDC has responded to over 65,000 requests for the newly revised case definition of CFS, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, December 15, 1994.

The CFIDS Association of America compiled a press release on these issues and distributed it widely on June 5, 1995. The Association also organized and provided thspeakers for the Congressional Briefing. It “it important to note that May 12, the day the testimony was given, is considered the official CFS day of advocacy.

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