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Study Links Chronic Fatigue to Virus Class

When the journal Science published an attention-grabbing study last fall linking chronic fatigue syndrome to a recently discovered retrovirus, many experts remained skeptical — especially after four other studies found no such association.

Now a second research team has reported a link between the fatigue syndrome and the same class of virus, a category known as MRV-related viruses. In a paper published Monday by The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists found gene sequences from several MRV-related viruses in blood cells from 32 out of 37 chronic-fatigue patients but only 3 of 44 healthy ones.

The researchers did not find XMRV, the specific retrovirus identified in patients last fall. But by confirming the presence of a cluster of genetically similar viruses, the new study represents a significant advance, experts and advocates say.

“I think it settles the issue of whether the initial report was real or not,” said K. Kimberly McCleary, president of the CFIDS Association of America, the leading organization for people with chronic fatigue syndrome.

Leonard A. Jason, a professor of psychology at DePaul University and a leading researcher on the syndrome, agreed. “This class of retroviruses is probably going to be an important piece of the puzzle,” he said.

Chronic fatigue syndrome, estimated to afflict at least one million Americans, has no known cause and no accepted diagnostic tests, although patients show signs of immunological, neurological and endocrinological abnormalities. Besides profound exhaustion, symptoms include sleep disorders, cognitive problems, muscle and joint pain, sore throat and headaches.

The new paper, by researchers from the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration and Harvard Medical School, was accepted for publication in May. Social networks and online communities soon learned the general findings and were eagerly awaiting the paper.

But in July, researchers from another federal agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, published a study finding no XMRV or other MRV-related viruses in patients with the syndrome. News of the conflicting findings had led the Proceedings editors and the authors of the new paper to delay publication for further review, and some patients expressed alarm that important scientific information might be suppressed.
 
 

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