1939 Degersheim outbreak
1939 Degersheim, Switzerland outbreak: Degersheim is a municipality in the canton of St. Gallen in Switzerland. In September 1939, eight hundred soldiers transferred to Degersheim from an area that was having a polio outbreak. During the next couple weeks, seventy-three cases of epidemic neuromyasthenia were reported. Fifty-four (74% of total cases) developed systemic illness, twelve (16% of total cases) developed meningo-neuritic involvement, five cases developed myelitis (inflammation of the spinal cord) with muscle paresis (muscular weakness caused by nerve damage or disease) and two cases had an encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). Most of the cases were short-lived and accompanied by low-grade fever. Neuralgia (nerve pain) especially in the face, chest, and pelvic and legs were common. Autonomic disturbances were frequently observed during recovery. Susceptibility to fatigue and loss of concentration persisted in a few cases for more than a year. This outbreak is the first time the encephalitis is described as 'diencephalitis,' meaning inflammation of the midbrain or intermediate brain, in explaining the autonomic disturbances of the hypothalamus.
At the time of the outbreak, Dr. Otto Gsell, a renowned Swiss internist and professor, who has the artery disease, Erdheim-Gsell syndrome, named for him, diagnosed the outbreak as "Abortive Poliomyelitis*," but he also documented the differences in disease manifestation. Twenty years later, in 1958, after studying many outbreaks, including the Akureyri outbreak he wrote that "Encephalomyelitis myalgia epidemica eine poliomyelitisahnliche Krankheit" (myalgic encephalomyelitis epidemic is a poliomyelitis-like disease).
(*Abortive Poliomyelitis accounts for 80-90% of polio cases, is a mild form of poliomyelitis that does not involve the central nervous system, does not cause permanent disabilities of any kind, and recovery is within a couple days. Symptoms are similar to the flu: fever, malaise, headache, sore throat and vomiting.)
- Parish, J.G. (November 1978), "Early outbreaks of 'epidemic neuromyasthenia'.", Postgraduate Medical Journal, 54 (637): 711-717, PMID 370810
- Encephalomyelitis myalgia epidemica eine poliomyelitisahnliche Krankheit. Schweiz Med Wochenschr 1958; 88: 488–91.