Chronic Fatigue Syndrome sufferers the world over will be very happy that there is now reliable evidence that the virus XMRV is a likely cause of CFS. XMRV is a retrovirus found in rats, which has previously been implicated in certain type of aggressive prostate cancer. This study ably demonstrates that 67% of CFS sufferers carry the virus against only 3.7% in the general population. One of the authors of the study comments further in the Herald today:
But the senior author of the study, Judy Mikovits, director of research at the Whittemore Peterson Institute in Reno, Nevada, said further blood tests have revealed that more than 95 per cent of patients with the syndrome have antibodies to the virus – indicating they have been infected with XMRV, which can lie dormant within a patient’s DNA.
“With those numbers, I would say, yes, we’ve found the cause of chronic fatigue syndrome. We also have data showing that the virus attacks the human immune system,” said Dr Mikovits. She is testing a further 500 blood samples gathered from chronic fatigue patients diagnosed in London.
“The same percentages are holding up,” she said.
This evidence puts paid to the common belief amongst many in the medical fraternity that CFS is a psychiatric diagnosis, rather than a physical one. If it can be verified further, it represents an exciting breakthrough in the management of this debilitating disease. CFS is extremely difficult to treat and the prospect of a possible antiretroviral drug or a vaccine in enticing, even if it is still quite far in the future. Many CFS sufferers will simply be happy that the disease has been shown not to be “all in their head”. Detection of XMRV antibodies will also make the diagnosis of CFS much easier, as it is easily confused with other diagnoses such as fibromyalgia and depression.
Almost certainly, there are trigger factors that cause XMRV to manifest as CFS. As 3.7% of the normal population carry this virus, it is imperative we find these trigger factors, as tens of millions of people may be at risk of developing the disease.
The other famous retroviral syndrome, AIDS, may condemn people to a slow death; CFS condemns people to a ghost-like existence. It is hard to tell which is worse.