Eightfold increase in ME/CFS incidence in the 1980s

From MEpedia, a crowd-sourced encyclopedia of ME and CFS science and history

In the 1980s, there was a massive fivefold to eightfold increase in the global incidence of myalgic encephalomyelitis / chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS).[1] This huge wave of ME/CFS cases caused major consternation at disability insurance companies such as UNUM, who stood to lose enormous sums of money if they were required to support ME/CFS patients with lifetime disability support payments.[2]

This enormous increase in cases of ME/CFS is corroborated by multiple sources:

A 5-8 fold increment world wide, during the period 1980-1989, since when it has remained an endemic disease with periodic epidemic potential.

Dr Elizabeth Dowsett and Dr John Richardson[1]

Our studies show that ME is endemic in the UK but with epidemic and pandemic potential and describes in detail the epidemic in the mid 1960s and the pandemic between 1980 and 1989 when there was a seven-fold increase in incidence both here and abroad.

Dr Elizabeth Dowsett[3]

In the US in the late 1970s and 1980s there seemed to be a remarkable rise in incidence of a condition indistinguishable from ME, with manifestations of serious neuro-immune disease and profound incapacity, to the extent that the powerful insurance industry became alarmed. The insurance industry was concerned that, because there is no National Health Service in the US: "the field could change from an epidemiological investigation into a health insurance nightmare".

Professor Malcolm Hooper, Margaret Williams, E.P. Marshall[4]

In April l994, however, one of the nation’s largest private providers of disability insurance, the UNUM Corporation, issued a press release revealing chronic fatigue syndrome claims to be the fastest-growing sector of their business. According to UNUM, claims for disability caused by CFS had increased 500 percent from 1989 to 1993, a bigger increase than any other category of disability. During that five-year period, UNUM said, CFS-imposed disability had resulted in a 557 percent increase in claims by women; claims for CFS disability had risen 360 percent among men.

Hillary Johnson's book Osler's Web.[5]:655

UNUM stands to lose millions if we do not move quickly to address this increasing problem.

UNUM Disability Insurance, in their "CFS Management Plan" (recounted to Parliament by Prof Malcolm Hooper)[6]

There is also an apparent epidemic of new cases [of ME/CFS].

Professor Simon Wessely[2]

Possible causes of the 1980s explosion of ME/CFS cases[edit | edit source]

The widespread availability of antibiotics from around the 1950s onwards[edit | edit source]

A study by Berstad et al. (2020) found that people with a history of long treatments with antibiotics during their early life have a higher prevalence of chronic fatigue and irritable bowel syndrome. The paper postulates that heavy-duty antibiotic treatment in childhood promotes the formation of bacterial biofilms in the gut, leading to intestinal dysbiosis.[7] This dysbiosic gut may then set the stage for ME/CFS to appear later in life.[citation needed]

See also[edit | edit source]

Learn more[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Dowsett, Elizabeth; Richardson, John. "The Epidemiology of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) in the UK – 1919-1999". Archived from the original on April 2, 2016. Retrieved July 29, 2023.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Wessely, S (April 1989). "Myalgic Encephalomyelitis — A Warning: Discussion Paper". Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. 82 (4): 215–217. doi:10.1177/014107688908200411. ISSN 0141-0768. PMC 1292087. PMID 2716018.
  3. Dowsett, Elizabeth (December 2002). "Medical Research Council (CFS/ME Research Advisory Group) Draft Document for Public Consultation". ME Action UK. Archived from the original on June 20, 2012. Retrieved July 29, 2023.
  4. Hooper, Malcolm; Williams, Margaret; Marshall, E.P. "What is ME? What is CFS? Information for Clinicians and Lawyers" (PDF). ME Action UK. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 2, 2013. Retrieved July 29, 2023.
  5. Johnson, Hillary (1997). Osler’s web: Inside the labyrinth of the chronic fatigue syndrome epidemic. New York: Penguin Books. ISBN 9780140263473.
  6. Hooper, Malcolm (March 2007). "Evidence submitted by Professor Malcolm Hooper (NICE 2007 evidence)". Parliament UK.
  7. Berstad, Arnold; Hauso, Olav; Berstad, Ketil; Berstad, Johanna E. R. (July 1, 2020). "From IBS to ME – The dysbiotic march hypothesis". Medical Hypotheses. 140: 109648. doi:10.1016/j.mehy.2020.109648. ISSN 0306-9877.