Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Mice and M.E?

This article in the Daily Mail.  Link to the original story HERE

Chronic fatigue syndrome may be caused by a rare mouse-related virus, new research suggests.

Scientists found evidence of murine leukaemia virus - known to cause cancer in mice - in 86 per cent of chronic fatigue patients.

However, traces from this family of bugs were only found in seven per cent of samples from healthy blood donors.

It adds to the growing body of evidence that an infection could play a role in the complicated illness.

ME – also known as chronic fatigue syndrome - affects around 250,000 Britons. It usually develops in people in their early 20s to mid-40s.

Symptoms include extreme exhaustion, sleep disturbances, memory and concentration difficulties, a sore throat, headaches and pain in the muscles and joints. At present, there is no test or cure for the condition.

In its most extreme form, it can leave sufferers - who include Dame Kelly Holmes and Emily Wilcox, the daughter of television presenter Esther Rantzen - bedridden and can even be fatal.

However, because the disease’s symptoms are so similar to flu and vary between patients, doctors are able to diagnose it only after ruling out every possible cause.

The authors of the latest U.S government study said further research is needed to determine how common the murine leukemia virus is in people and whether it might be causing disease, or whether it is an innocent bystander.

The team led by Harvey Alter of the National Institutes of Health, said the study raises at least as many questions as it answers.

'Chronic fatigue syndrome is a debilitating disorder defined solely by clinical symptoms,' the researchers wrote in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

'So far no single agent has been associated with a large fraction of cases.'

The latest U.S government study is the second to link a mouse virus to chronic fatigue. In 2009, scientists found xenotropic murine related virus or XMRV in some patients with the syndrome but several others since then have found no such link.

Evidence of XMRV has also been found in prostate tumors, but again, scientists are unsure if the virus may actually be causing the tumors.

Action for M.E., the UK’s leading charity for people with chronic fatigue, is calling on the Medical Research Council in the UK to prioritise research into the link between viral infections and M.E., following the latest findings from the United States.

Action for M.E.’s Chief Executive, Sir Peter Spencer, said: 'It is extremely encouraging to see positive results linking different strains of viruses and CFS, after disappointing results from other studies earlier this year.

'However, we cannot afford to leave this to the Americans. M.E. affects 250,000 men women and children in the UK, from toddlers aged two to people in their eighties. Many become so severely affected that they are bedbound or housebound.

'In June, the MRC’s expert group on M.E./CFS identified viral infection as a priority. We now call on the MRC to take this forward in real terms, as a matter of urgency, by allocating a significant level of funding to research in this area.

'There are still many questions to be answered, not least the variations in findings. Large-scale studies involving many more patients are also required.'

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