Chronic fatigue syndrome caused by stomach virus?

“Mystery” ailment may be linked to a common stomach virus, according to new research.

Could the cause for the elusive chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) point to a common stomach virus?

According to a study published in the online issue of the Journal of Clinical Pathology, a group of viruses known to cause respiratory and stomach infections may be a major trigger for CFS.

The viruses, known as enteroviruses, are second only to common cold viruses as the most common viral infections in humans, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). In fact, many people infected with an enterovirus are unaware of it and experience no symptoms.

In the study, 80 per cent – or four out of five CFS patients – showed evidence of chronic enterovirus infection in stomach tissue biopsies, compared with just one in five healthy people.

Although the findings still need to be verified, study author, California infectious disease specialist John Chia, M.D., says his research suggests that chronic infection with the virus is a possible cause of chronic fatigue syndrome in a large percentage of patients.

“Although finding a chronic infection in the stomach may not directly prove a similar infection in the brain, muscle, or heart, it opens up a new direction in the research for this elusive disease,” he writes in his report.

Chia’s 24-year-old son, Andrew, was diagnosed with debilitating chronic fatigue syndrome in 1997. It was this diagnosis that inspired his father to embark on the research in hope of shedding new light on the disease.

Researchers hope the study’s results could open a new direction for further research, as chronic fatigue patients could benefit from antiviral therapy. Earlier studies have shown that anti-virals were effective in reducing symptoms.

Not that simple?
Some experts, however, say the answer to a condition as complex as CFS may not be that simple. James Jones, M.D., of the CDC’s chronic viral diseases branch, told WebMD that despite extensive research, a direct cause-and-effect relationship between an active infectious agent and chronic fatigue syndrome still has not been established.

“This is an illness with a lot of different origins, and to assume that its cause is due to an infection because the symptoms are similar to an infection is a great leap,” Jones said.

About chronic fatigue syndrome
CFS, originally dubbed “yuppie flu” back in the 1980s, has baffled medical experts for years. It is typically associated with severe fatigue – not relieved with rest – that persists for at least six months. But people with CFS can also experience a multitude of other symptoms including muscle and joint pain, memory and concentration problems, depression, headaches, sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, sleep disorders and/or gastrointestinal problems. The condition can last for years.

According to Statistics Canada (2002-03 figures), about 341,126 people, or 1.3 per cent of the population, have been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome.

For more information on CFS, click here.

To view the study abstract, click here.