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March 2, 2006

In the news

Chronic fatigue is brain ‘hit and run’ – Breaking News – National – Breaking News

Australian researchers believe chronic fatigue syndrome may be the biological equivalent of a hit and run injury to the brain.

If their hunch is right, it’s likely to offer relief to chronic fatigue sufferers worldwide, many of whom suffer in silence because of the stigma associated with an unexplained illness.

The Australian scientists suspect the cause may be an infection, like glandular fever, which hits parts of the brain controlling perception of fatigue and pain during the early stages of the virus.

In about 10 per cent of sufferers, long after the virus has left the body, the researchers speculate the brain remains inflamed, taking months, or even longer, to heal – hence a diagnosis of chronic fatigue.

A 12-month study of 39 Australians with glandular fever, including eight patients who developed chronic fatigue syndrome, found neither the virus nor an abnormal immune response explained the differences between the two groups.

In an article in this week’s Journal of Infectious Diseases, the researchers said the study found personality style, such as neuroticism, and psychological disorders like depression failed to predict prolonged illness.

Lead researcher Andrew Lloyd, of the University of NSW, said the study was part of the ongoing Dubbo Infection Outcomes Study which was tracking the long-term health of people infected with Ross River virus, Q fever infection and Epstein-Barr virus, which causes glandular fever.

The unique study, which began in 1999, was partly funded by the United States government.

Already, 700 people have been involved.

Professor Lloyd, an infectious diseases physician, said the ultimate goal was to discover the cause of chronic fatigue syndrome and an appropriate treatment.

He said despite around 40 scientific trials of various treatments including anti-depressants, multi-vitamins, anti-viral drugs and immunological therapies, none had been useful.

Only rehabilitation-style therapies such as graded exercise have been shown to help.

“We’ve looked at the immune system and at the bugs that might be relevant. That’s not where the money is,” Prof Lloyd said in an interview.

“It’s not too big a leap of faith to say after that, it’s in the brain, because of the nature of the symptoms – it’s fatigue, it’s pain, sleep disturbance, concentration and memory difficulties and mood disturbance. They’re very much brain symptoms.”

Prof Lloyd said the next step would be to perform sophisticated neurological tests and brain imaging to prove the theory.

Nurse Debbie Connell, one of the participants in the Dubbo study, said until she suffered from chronic fatigue herself, she was ignorant about the condition despite working in the medical profession.

“Basically, I think the general consensus is that it’s a mental thing, rather than an actual physical thing,” the 38-year-old mother said from her home at Mudgee, on the NSW central tablelands.

“You suffer in silence because of the stigma associated with it.

“Honestly, I think generally speaking, people think it’s just a crock.

“It’s just sheer ignorance. They have no idea what it feels like.”

Chronic fatigue syndrome has struck a number of high profile Australians including former AFL star Alastair Lynch, swimmers Linley Frame and Johanna Griggs and actress Totti Goldsmith.

Although during the 1990s the condition was dismissed as the yuppie flu, Prof Lloyd said suggestions the syndrome was a form of malingering had generally been rejected by the medical community.

© 2006 AAP

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