Thursday, November 5, 2009

CFS - History of an Old Disease With Many Aliases

Chronic Fatigue-like illnesses have been described in medical literature for over a century-and-a-half.  The disease has went through many different name changes since then:

  • In 1751, Manningham described a syndrome of low-grade fever, weariness throughout the body, and pains.
  • 1760 - Dr. Snow described a new illness in West Otago, New Zealand as Tapanui flu.
  • 1816 - Fibromyalgia was first described by Dr. William Balfour as rheumatism.
  • In 1860, Dr. George Beard identified a syndrome with similarities to CFS that he called Neurasthenia.
  • In 1861, Florence Nightingale became ill with CFS symptoms.
  • 1884 - Sigmund Freud advocated cocaine use to alleviate chronic fatigue.
  • 1904 - William Weichardt described that CFS had an etiological agent.
  • In 1936, an outbreak occurred in a Wisconsin Convent.  The name Encephalitis was given to the condition.
  • 1937 - An outbreak occurred in two Swiss towns, that were described as abortive poliomyelitis..
  • In 1938 Dr. Alexander Gillam described an outbreak that occurred in 1934 at Los Angeles County hospital affecting all or most of its nurses and doctors resembling symptoms of today's description of Chronic Fatigue Syndrom.  Dr. Alexander Gillam gave the syndrome the name of atypical poliomyelitis.
  • 1915 - The AMA Journal referred to neurasthenia as an adrenal disorder.
  • 1939 - 73 Swiss soliders were given the diagnosis of abortive poliomyelitis.
  • 1948 - Outbreak at Akureyri Iceland.
  • In 1949-1951 over 800 people in Adelaide, Australia became ill with symptoms resembling the atypical poliomyelitis described by Dr. Alexander Gillam.
  • 1955 - An outbreak at the Royal Free Hospital in England, the first reference made to a neuroimmune condition with a proposed name of Royal Free Disease.
  • 1964 - A theory arose that CFS was chronic brucellosis.
  • In 1970, McEvedy and Beard proposed the name benign myalgic encephalomyelitis and mass hysteria.
  • 1982 - Lake Tahoe Outbreak - A large number of persons fell ill, with a mystery illness, and many never recovered.  Hippocrates Magazine proposed the name "Raggedy Ann Syndrome".
  • 1983 - The term Chronic Eppstein-Barr virus was used
  • 1986 - The Term Yuppie Flu was coined
  • 1988 - The term Chronic Fatigue Syndrome became widely accepted.
  • 1989 - 1990 - Edmonton Outbreak - Over 600 people reported symptoms resembling CFS, beginning in the fall of 1989.  Several cases were traced back to two student residences at the University of Alberta which began with a flu like illness at the beginning of the fall semester, where some blood abnormalities were noted.
  • 1990 - Researchers announced they found DNA sequences of a retrovirus in CFS patients, and presented their findings in Kyoto.
  • 1996 - CFS was described as a neuropsychiatric disorder.  
  • 2003 - A Canadian panel developed diagnostic criteria for CFS.
  • In 2006, the CDC recognized CFS as a serious illness
  • 2007 - Monterrey Outbreak - Several Catholic nuns fell ill with CFS in Monterrey, Mexico.  The CDC was enlisted to analyze the blood by Mexican health officials, but they declined.  Researchers at Guadalajara University noted abnormalities in the RNASE-L pathway.


  1. 1760 - Dr. Snow described a new illness in West Otago, New Zealand as Tapanui flu.


    Dr Luckett,

    I'm a Tapanui Flu survivor and honest, I'm not that old.

    Annette (M.E. since the start of 1984)

  2. In New Zealand, an outbreak of ME/CFS in the South Island region of Otago in 1984, led to the illness being dubbed 'Tapanui Flu'. Those affected by the condition initially developed a 'flu-like malaise' and suffered from debilitating fatigue for several weeks afterwards. A subsequent 10-year study on 21 of those affected, in the journal, Archives of Internal Medicine, showed that 16 of the 21 had been able to achieve an almost full-degree of functioning by the end of the ten year period (Levine, 1997).