Sleep Disorders

01 June 2011

Chronic fatigue syndrome not caused by virus

A 2009 study claimed a mouse virus was the cause of chronic fatigue syndrome. But researchers claim this isn't the case and its findings were based on contaminated lab samples.


A major study in 2009 that claimed a mouse virus was the cause of chronic fatigue syndrome was wrong, and its findings were likely based on contaminated lab samples, US researchers.

"There is no evidence of this mouse virus in human blood," said Jay Levy of the University of California, San Francisco, senior author of the study to be published this week in the journal Science.

Instead, the mouse virus XMRV that was picked up in samples from chronic fatigue patients probably got there because "chemical reagents and cell lines used in the laboratory where it was identified were contaminated with the virus," the university said.

The 2009 study was hailed as a breakthrough for the estimated one to four million Americans who suffer from the elusive but debilitating illness, and led to many being treated with antiretroviral drugs used against HIV/Aids.

The study

The study authors said experts need to keep searching for the cause of the disease, which can last for years and cause memory loss, muscle pain, extreme tiredness and possibly insomnia.

"Individuals with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome need to know that taking antiretroviral therapies will not benefit them, and may do them serious harm," said co-author Konstance Knox of the Wisconsin Virus Research Group in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

"Physicians should not be prescribing antiviral compounds used in the treatment of HIV/AIDS to patients on the basis of a Chronic Fatigue Syndrome diagnosis or a XMRV test result."

The 2009study

The 2009 study was conducted by researchers in Nevada and Maryland who found xenotropic murine leukaemia virus-related virus (XMRV) in about two-thirds of blood samples taken from 101 patients with chronic fatigue syndrome.

Levy, a prominent HIV/Aids researcher, said he was contacted by the original team to try to replicate its findings by examining blood samples from other chronic fatigue patients.

Using similar procedures to examine the blood of 61 patients, "Levy and colleagues found no evidence of XMRV or any other mouse-related virus," UCSF said.

They also determined that it was highly unlikely that humans could become infected with the mouse virus in the first place, because "human serum quickly kills it."

Other scientists involved in the follow up research came from the Wisconsin Viral Research Group in Milwaukee, the Blood Systems Research Institute in San Francisco, the Open Medicine Institute in Mountain View, CA and Abbott in Abbott Park, IL.

"With this extensive study, we could not confirm any of the results of the earlier papers," Levy said.(Sapa/ May 2011)

Read more:
 Spinal fluid links Lyme disease and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome





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Dr Alison Bentley is a general practitioner who has consulted in sleep medicine and sleep disorders, in both adults and children of all ages, for almost 30 years. She also researches and publishes on a number of sleep-related topics both in formal research journals and lay publications including as editor of Sleep Matters, an educational newsletter on sleep disorders for doctors.

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