Debunked: Scientists Find No Link Between Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Viruses

People with chronic fatigue syndrome suffer with more than lingering exhaustion and joint pain—they also have to endure cynics who say their condition isn’t real, but masks something else, such as depression.

They’re going to have to endure them even longer. A study released this week concluded there is no link between chronic fatigue syndrome and two viruses thought to be the culprits that cause persistent lethargy, as well as pain and memory problems.

The study, published this week in the journal mBio, follows two previous studies that suggested two viruses known as XMRV and pMLV were found in patients with CFS.

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“The bottom line is we found no evidence of infection with XMRV and pMLV,” co-author Ian Lipkin of Columbia University said in a news release. “These results refute any correlation between these agents and disease.”

The current study included 147 people with CFS and 146 without. Blood tests were done in different labs across the country to see if participants had genes that would reveal the presence of the viruses.

Because contamination was suspected for causing false positives in the last trial, researchers in this study were extremely careful to make sure that didn’t happen. The result: no evidence of either virus was found in the samples. To add even more credibility to the findings, some of the authors of the mBio study also worked on earlier research that did find traces of the viruses.

The news leaves CFS sufferers with more questions about the cause or causes of their condition. While the findings may add fuel to the detractors’ fires, Lipkin hasn’t thrown in the towel.

“We are not abandoning the patients,” he said. “We are not abandoning the science. The controversy brought a new focus that will drive efforts to understand (the condition) and lead to improvements in diagnosis, prevention and treatment of this syndrome.”

Do you think chronic fatigue syndrome is a real condition? Let us know in the comments.

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Jeannine Stein, a California native, wrote about health for the Los Angeles Times. In her pursuit of a healthy lifestyle she has taken countless fitness classes, hiked in Nepal, and has gotten in a boxing ring. Email Jeannine |