From the Daily Mail, 8 September 2010
The debilitating condition ME, often dismissed as all in the mind, is caused by a virus, new evidence suggests.
Children with the illness were found to have a blood abnormality which suggested they had been fighting off infection.
Blood samples of youngsters aged seven to 14 who complained of the condition were studied at the University of Dundee.
They contained more free radicals – molecules that can damage cells, tissues and organs.
The blood also had large numbers of white blood cells at the end of their life cycle, suggesting the children were fighting off a virus or infection, the Archives of Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine said.
Sufferers of ME, or myalgic encephalomyelitis, have struggled to be taken seriously and many doctors have suggested their symptoms – including severe, chronic exhaustion and muscle pain – are ‘all in their head’.
Professor Jill Belch, head of the unit at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee, who led the study said: “The findings that we have shown are those that are commonly seen when somebody has a virus or an infection.
‘For example, if you have a virus or a bacteria your white blood cell will swallow the particle and then release chemicals to kill it.
‘We actually started with adults and did find these results. At the clinic there have been so many distressing cases that we decided tocarry out the work in children and we found the same abnormalities.’
Speaking about why there had been scepticism in the medical profession that it would be a virus, she said: “I think because there has been no physical abnormality to find. It is very difficult if somebody goes in, they are very fatigued but they really have no other physical signs or blood tests that are abnormal.
‘The trouble is once you are socially isolated, you lose your friends, you become depressed and therefore it does look to some doctors as if it is a psychological disease.’
Dr Neil Abbot, from ME Research UK, said: “Although the cause of ME is unknown, more than half of all patients say their illness started with an infection.
“It is, therefore, fascinating to discover evidence of a persistent or reactivating viral infection.
“The study undoubtedly adds greater scientific weight to the existence of a condition which, sadly, many still fail to acknowledge in spite of its severity.
The “debilitating illness” affects between 120,000 and 240,000 people in the UK but is not well understood nor, in many cases, properly recognised, according to the ME Research UK website.