by Rob Stein, Washington Post, 8 October 2009
Scientists have found evidence that a virus may play a role in chronic fatigue syndrome.
Vincent C. Lombardi of the Whittemore Peterson Institute in Reno, Nev., and scientists elsewhere studied 101 patients with chronic fatigue syndrome, a baffling, debilitating and controversial condition that affects an estimated 17 million people worldwide.
They discovered that 68 of the patients –67 percent – had a virus in their blood known as the xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus or XMRV. Only eight of 218 similar subjects who did not have chronic fatigue syndrome – 3.7 percent – had the virus in their blood, the researchers report in a paper published online Thursday by the journal Science.
Further studies showed that the virus is indeed infectious, and can "provoke" the immune system to respond.
The researchers cautioned that the findings far from prove that the virus causes chronic fatigue. It may be just part of the picture. But they suggest that the virus may at least contribute to the development of the disorder.
This isn’t the first time a virus has been associated with the condition. Previous research has suggested that some herpes viruses and other viruses may also play a role.
In an article accompanying the research, John Coffin of Tufts University in Boston and Jonathan Stoye of the National Institute for Medical Research in London agreed. They noted that there are many unanswered questions about the virus, including how it is transmitted.
But if the findings are representative of what’s going on in the general public, perhaps 10 million Americans and hundreds of millions of people worldwide might be infected with the virus, which could turn out to be playing a role in a variety of diseases. The virus previously was found in some patients with prostate cancer.