List of myalgic encephalomyelitis and chronic fatigue syndrome outbreaks

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

There have been dozens of documented outbreaks of myalgic encephalomyelitis and chronic fatigue syndrome since the 1930s. The true number of clusters and outbreaks is likely vastly higher. Many of these outbreaks occurred in institutions like hospitals and schools, and frequently coincided with outbreaks of poliomyelitis.

The first recorded outbreak was in 1934 in Los Angeles and the most recent putative outbreak was in Arizona in 1996.

Outbreaks by decade[edit | edit source]

1930s[edit | edit source]

1934 - Los Angeles, US[edit | edit source]

Epidemic among personnel at L.A. County Hospital, Ruth Protection Home and throughout California, paralleling poliomyelitis, often diagnosed as atypical poliomyelitis, sometimes including arthropathy.[1]

1936 - Fond-du-Lac, Wisconsin, US[edit | edit source]

An outbreak of "encephalitis" in St. Agnes Convent.[2][3]

1937 - Erstfeld, Switzerland[edit | edit source]

In less than two weeks, 130 soldiers stationed in Erstfeld, Switzerland became ill with a disease that was attributed to "Abortive poliomyelitis."[4]

1937 - St. Gallen, Switzerland[edit | edit source]

Outbreak in the women's section of a hospital in St Gallen, Switzerland affecting 28 staff and patients. They were diagnosed with "Abortive Poliomyelitis." [4]

1939 - Middlesex, England[edit | edit source]

Outbreak at Harefield Sanatorium - "Persistent myalgia following sore throat."[3]

1939 - Degersheim, St. Gallen, Switzerland[edit | edit source]

Seventy-three cases of epidemic neuromyasthenia were reported among 800 soldiers stationed in Degersheim, Switzerland.[4]

1940s[edit | edit source]

1945 - University Hospital of Pennsylvania, US[edit | edit source]

Epidemic described as "pleurodynia with prominent neurological symptoms and no demonstrable cause."

1946-47 - Iceland[edit | edit source]

"Mixed epidemics of poliomyelitis and a disease resembling poliomyelitis with the character of the Akureyri Disease."

1948-49 - North Coast Towns, Iceland[edit | edit source]

"A disease epidemic in Iceland simulating Poliomyelitis" in three separate towns during this time.[3]

1949-1953 - Adelaide, Australia[edit | edit source]

Outbreak of a disease resembling poliomyelitis, during/after a poliomyelitis epidemic.

1950s[edit | edit source]

1950 - Louisville, Kentucky, US[edit | edit source]

Outbreak in the Nurse's Training School of St. Joseph Infirmary, later described as "epidemic neuromyasthenia."

1950 - Upper New York State, US[edit | edit source]

Outbreak described as resembling the "Iceland Disease...simulating Acute Anterior Poliomyelitis."

1952 - London, England[edit | edit source]

Outbreak at Middlesex Hospital Nurses' Home described as "Encephalomyelitis associated with Poliomyelitis Virus."

1952 - Copenhagen, Denmark[edit | edit source]

Outbreak described as "epidemic myositis."

1952 - Lakeland, Florida, US[edit | edit source]

Outbreak described as epidemic neuromyasthenia.

1953 - Coventry and Coventry District, England[edit | edit source]

"An illness resembling Poliomyelitis observed in nurses."

1953 - Rockville, Maryland, US[edit | edit source]

Chestnut Lodge Hospital student nurses described with poliomyelitis-like epidemic neuromyasthenia.

1953 - Jutland, Denmark[edit | edit source]

Outbreak of "Epidemic encephalitis with vertigo."

1954 - Tallahassee, Florida, US[edit | edit source]

Bond JO. A new clinical entity? Lancet 1956; 2:256.

1954 - Seward, Alaska[edit | edit source]

Outbreak described as "Benign Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (Iceland Disease)."[5]

1954 - Berlin, Germany[edit | edit source]

Among the British Army, a "further outbreak of a disease resembling poliomyelitis."

1954 - Liverpool, England[edit | edit source]

Outbreak among medical and nursing staff in a Liverpool Hospital.

1954 - Dalston, Cumbria, England[edit | edit source]

" unusual disease seen in epidemic and sporadic form in general practice in 1955 and subsequent years."

1954 - Johannesburg[edit | edit source]

1955 - Perth, Australia[edit | edit source]

"Virus epidemic in recurrent waves."

1955 - Gilfach Goch, Wales[edit | edit source]

Outbreak of Benign encephalomyelitis.

1955 - Durban and Durban City, South Africa[edit | edit source]

Outbreak among nurses at Addington Hospital called "The Durban Mystery Disease" describing neuromuscular dysfunction, and epidemic myalgic encephalomyelopathy, including sporadic cases in Johannesburg of a outbreak resembling poliomyelitis.

1955 – North of England[edit | edit source]

1955-56 - Segbwema, Sierra Leone[edit | edit source]

An outbreak of encephalomyelitis.

1955-56 - Patreksfordur and Thorshofn, Iceland[edit | edit source]

Unusual response to poliomyelitis vaccination.

1955-1957 - Royal Free Hospital outbreak, London, England[edit | edit source]

Famous outbreak of benign myalgic encephalomyelitis simulating poliomyelitis, beginning among a residential home for nurses at the Royal Free Hospital.[6][7]

1956 - Ridgefield, Connecticut, US[edit | edit source]

An epidemic of neuromyasthenia.

1956 - Punta Gorda, Florida, US[edit | edit source]

An outbreak of epidemic neuromyasthenia.

1956 - Newton-le-Willows, Lancashire, England[edit | edit source]

Outbreak described as "lymphocytic meningo-encephalitis with myalgia and rash," "An outbreak of a disease believed to have been cause by Echo 9 virus," with other varying descriptions.

1956 - Pittsfield, Williamstown, Massachusetts, US[edit | edit source]

Outbreak of "epidemic neuromyasthenia" later described as benign myalgic encephalomyelitis. (Included in this summary are sporadic cases in Hygiea, Sweden, with descriptions of encephalitis, meningitis or poliomyelitis; Coxsackie B and Echovirus infections; benign myalgic encephalomyelitis.)

1956-57 - Coventry, England[edit | edit source]

Outbreak described as epidemic malaise and benign myalgic encephalomyelitis.

1957 - Brighton, South Australia[edit | edit source]

Outbreak described as "Coxsackie, Echo Virus meningitis and myalgic encephalomyelitis", "Epidemic myalgic encephalomyelitis," and "Benign myalgic encephalomyelitis."

1958 - Athens, Greece[edit | edit source]

An outbreak of benign myalgic encephalomyelitis in a nurse's school, "periostitis and arthropathy noted." (Included in this summary is an outbreak of benign myalgic encephalomyelitis in Switzerland.) (

1958-59 - S.W. London, England[edit | edit source]

Reports of sporadic cases of myalgic encephalomyelitis.

1959 - Newcastle upon Tyne, England[edit | edit source]

Outbreak of benign myalgic encephalomylitis.

1959 - N.W. London, England[edit | edit source]

Reports of sporadic cases of influenza-like illness.

1959 - England[edit | edit source]

Article describing sporadic cases and "The psychiatric sequelae of Benign Myalgic Encephalomyelitis."

1960s[edit | edit source]

1961 - Basel, Switzerland[edit | edit source]

Sporadic case of benign myalgic encephalomyelitis described.

1961-62 - New York State, US[edit | edit source]

Outbreak described as epidemic neuromyasthenia in a convent in New York State.

1964-66 - N.W. London, England[edit | edit source]

Outbreak described as epidemic malaise and epidemic neuromyasthenia occurred in North Finchley, a suburb of London, England.

1964-66 - Franklin, Kentucky, US[edit | edit source]

Outbreak of "neuromyasthenia" in a Kentucky factory, possibly due to mercury exposure.

1965-66 - Galveston County, Texas, US[edit | edit source]

Outbreak described as "Epidemic Neuromyasthenia Variant?" and "Epidemic Diencephalomyelitis," the latter describing neuropsychiatric, cardiovascular and endocrine disorders.

1967-70 - Edinburgh, Scotland[edit | edit source]

Sporadic cases resembling benign myalgic encephalomyelitis.

1968 - Fnaidek, Lebanon[edit | edit source]

Report on an epidemic of benign myalgic encephalomyelitis.

1969 - State University of New York, US[edit | edit source]

Medical Centre - report of epidemic Neuromyasthenia and "unidentified symptom complex."

1970s[edit | edit source]

1970 - Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, US[edit | edit source]

Epidemic Neuromyasthenia reported. "A syndrome or disease?"

1970-71 - London, England[edit | edit source]

An outbreak of "epidemic neuromyasthenia" among nurses a the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Oromond Street.

1975 - Sacramento, California, US[edit | edit source]

In 1975, an epidemic started first among the ICU staff and later spread throughout Mercy San Juan Hospital, in Carmichael, a suburb of Sacramento, CA. An estimated 200 people became ill. Dr Ryll, who headed the investigating medical team, called it "Infectious Venulitis" which he later believed to be a variant of ME/CFS.[8][9]

1976 - Southwest Ireland[edit | edit source]

Reports on Mylagic Encephalomyelits and epidemic neuromyasthenia in this region.

1977 - Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, US[edit | edit source]

"Epidemic Neuromyasthenia" reported.

1979 - Southampton, England[edit | edit source]

Outbreak of M.E. in a girls' school.

1980s[edit | edit source]

1980-1988 Children’s hospital San Diego outbreak closes down Hospital. CDC investigates. Six children die 1980. Medical doctor and two intensive care nurses die.

1980-81 - West Kilbridge, Ayrshire, Scotland[edit | edit source]

M.E. epidemic reported in a rural medical practice.

1980-83 - Helensburgh, Scotland[edit | edit source]

Coxsackie B outbreak reported in a general practice.

1981-82 - Stirlingshire, Scotland[edit | edit source]

Sporadic cases of M.E. reported.

1981 - Gunnedah, NSW, Australia[edit | edit source]

The Gunnedah outbreak was linked with pesticides, which were conjectured to be interacting with viruses and other environmental chemicals in a post-viral syndrome.[10] Those affected included one local GP, with that GP forming the view this was clearly a physical illness. The outbreak was featured in a film More than Just Poison made in 1986 by the Toxic and Hazardous Chemicals Committee.[11]

1984 - Tapanui & West Otago, New Zealand[edit | edit source]

Outbreak first described and an "unexplained illness," later as M.E. Included here are outbreaks in Dunedin and Hamilton New Zealand.

1984 - North America (Endemic)[edit | edit source]

"From 1984 until 1992 [at publication of this text] an endemic period occurred in which an usually large number of cluster and epidemics of ME/CFS have been recognized in North America. After an apparent initial increase in the morbidity in 1983 there seemed to have appeared in late summer of 1984 an unprecedented increase of sporadic and epidemic cases across North America. Although certain geographical hot spots seen to have taken up much of the medical interest, this endemic situation probably represents an unusual and unremitting morbidity in all areas of the United States and Canada." -Dr. Byron Hyde-

1984 - Incline village, Lake Tahoe, Nevada, US[edit | edit source]

A chronic illness characterized by fatigue, neurologic and immunologic disorders and active human Human herpesvirus 6 infection. This community epidemic apparently started in a girls' basketball team, then involved primarily teachers in at least three high schools, and then large numbers of the community.[12]

Note: This outbreak prompted a Centers for Disease Control response and was the catalyst for the name Chronic fatigue syndrome and the development of the CDC's 1994 research diagnostic tool Fukuda criteria used worldwide.

1984 - Chapel Hill, North Carolina, US[edit | edit source]

"Epidemic amongst members of The North Carolina Symphony Orchestra. Low NKC Natural killer cells associated with high yield of lymphoma, astrocytoma, glioma."

All the members of the N.C. Symphony Orchestra, Chapel Hill, NC got sick. Seven remained ill with chronic fatigue as late as 2009.

A series of studies done in 1988 and 1989 by the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Center showed that four of the inflicted NC orchestra members who developed cancer had lower levels of activity of natural killer cells, a type of immune cell that can directly kill cancer.

1984 - Montreal, Quebec-Ontario, Canada[edit | edit source]

Over 500 cases of M.E./CFS documented during August-November 1984 period. This endemic was active in all parts of Canada during this period and appears [to] have maintained its activity until the time of writing in 1991.

1984-85 - Truckee, California, US[edit | edit source]

M.E. epidemic involving teachers and students. 1984 - 1985: Incline Village Nevada Lake Tahoe outbreak in town and all people vacationing at This resort town.

1985 - Lyndonville, New York, US[edit | edit source]

M.E. epidemic in a rural community involving children and adults.[12]

1985 Yerington, Nevada, US[edit | edit source]

In the same area [not far from Truckee, California] an M.E./CFS-like epidemic reputedly occurred in a reservation of American Native people.

1986 - Placerville, California, US[edit | edit source]

Outbreak of chronic fatigue syndrome 'coincident with a heavy contamination of the local unfiltered water supply'.

1988 - Sonora, California, US[edit | edit source]

"More than 35 children and adults were diagnosed with M.E. in the mountain country 100 miles from Lake Tahoe. Many of these patients were associated in some way with Columbia Community College."

1988 - Narrabeen, NSW, Australia[edit | edit source]


1989 - Roseville, California, US[edit | edit source]

Rosedale Hospital reported 11 cases of M.E./CFS among staff.

1990s[edit | edit source]

1990 - Elk Grove, California, US[edit | edit source]

M.E. epidemic among teachers and students.

1996 - Mohave Valley region, Arizona, US[edit | edit source]

Over 100 people became ill with a "multi-system stealth virus infection with encephalopathy (MSVIE)." A protracted course followed, with a diverse range of symptoms similar to CFS.[14]

2000s[edit | edit source]

2003 Hong Kong outbreak[edit | edit source]

The 2003 Hong Kong outbreak of chronic fatigue syndrome was caused by the SARS pandemic.

2004 Bergen, Norway outbreak[edit | edit source]

An outbreak of Giardia, a parasite, in the water supply resulted in many people exposed to it developing either chronic fatigue syndrome or irritable bowel syndrome. A number of follow-up studies of this patient group have since been published.

2010s[edit | edit source]

2019 Coronavirus pandemic outbreak[edit | edit source]

The discovery of a new coronavirus and the related COVID-19 illness it caused led to a pandemic, with cases believed to have begun in November or December 2019.[15]

2020s[edit | edit source]

2019 Coronavirus pandemic outbreak[edit | edit source]

The coronavirus first discovered in December 2019 led to high rates of COVID-19 illness, with COVID-19 being declared a pandemic in March 2020. The resulting Long COVID outbreak led to a ME/CFS outbreak, which remains ongoing.[15] COVID-19 was a similar illness to SARS, which cause the 2003 Hong Kong outbreak of ME/CFS.

Outbreaks by region[edit | edit source]

North America[edit | edit source]

Canada[edit | edit source]

United States[edit | edit source]

Europe[edit | edit source]

Denmark[edit | edit source]

Germany[edit | edit source]

Greece[edit | edit source]

Iceland[edit | edit source]

Ireland[edit | edit source]

Norway[edit | edit source]

Switzerland[edit | edit source]

United Kingdom[edit | edit source]

Asia[edit | edit source]

Lebanon[edit | edit source]

Hong Kong[edit | edit source]

2003 - Hong Kong outbreak

Africa[edit | edit source]

Sierra Leone[edit | edit source]

South Africa[edit | edit source]

Australia and New Zealand[edit | edit source]

Australia[edit | edit source]

New Zealand[edit | edit source]

International[edit | edit source]

Related lists[edit | edit source]

See also[edit | edit source]

Learn more[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Gilliam, A.G. (1938). "Epidemiological Study Of An Epidemic, Diagnosed As Poliomyelitis, Occurring Among The Personnel Of The Los Angeles County General Hospital During The Summer Of 1934". Public health bulletin, 1936-1938: 231–240.
  2. Armstong, Charles A. (1936), Report to the Surgeon General, US Public Health Service, of the investigation of an outbreak of "Encephalitis" in the St. Agnes Convent, Fond-du-Lac, Wisconsin.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Roueché, Berton (November 19, 1965). "In The Bughouse". 41 (Part 6). The New Yorker. p. 208.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Parish, J.G. (November 1978). "Early outbreaks of 'epidemic neuromyasthenia'". Postgraduate Medical Journal. 54 (637): 711-717. PMID 370810.
  5. Deisher, J.B. (1957). "Benign myalgic encephalomyelitis (Iceland disease) in Alaska" (PDF). Northwest medicine. 56 (12): 1451–1456. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 24, 2014.
  6. Ramsay, A.M. (1957). "Encephalomyelitis in North West London. An Endemic infection simulating Poliomyelitis and Hysteria". Lancet. 273 (7007): 1196–1200. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(57)90163-0. PMID 13492606.
  7. Geffen, Dennis; Tracy, Susan M. (October 19, 1957). "An Outbreak of Acute Infective Encephalomyelitis in a Residential Home for Nurses in 1956" (PDF). British Medical Journal. 2 (5050): 904–906. doi:10.1136/bmj.2.5050.904. ISSN 0007-1447. PMC 1962504. PMID 13472003.
  8. "Infectious Venulitis". Retrieved October 17, 2020.
  9. Ryll, Erich (Fall 2005). "Infectious Venulitis". Archived from the original on October 22, 2015. Retrieved April 9, 2022.
  10. 10.0 10.1 "M.E.: a mystery illness affecting Australians" The Canberra Times (newspaper) 12 November 1987: 19.
  11. Video - "More Than Just Poison" Arafura Films, 1986
  12. 12.0 12.1 "Chronic Fatigue Syndrome". Newsweek. November 11, 1990.
  13. ME/CFS Society of Western Australia - Endemic Outbreaks
  14. "Stealth Virus Epidemic in the Mohave Valley". Retrieved October 17, 2020.
  15. 15.0 15.1 NIHR (October 2020). "Living with covid-19. A dynamic review of the evidence around ongoing covid-19 symptoms (often called long covid)". Retrieved October 15, 2020.