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There have been dozens of documented outbreaks of ME and CFS since the 1930s. Many of these outbreaks occurred at institutions for example, hospitals, schools, army bases or convents. The true number of clusters and outbreaks is likely vastly higher.

History of the name[new][edit source][reply]

Before the polio vaccine, outbreaks were often observed in towns experiencing polio epidemics, hence one of ME's earliest names, atypical polio. It is not known whether there is a relationship between polio outbreaks and ME or if outbreaks of ME were more likely to be reported when public health authorities were already mobilized for an earlier crisis.

After the outbreak in Akureyri, Iceland in 1946, the disease came to be called "Akureyri Disease" or Icelandic disease through much of the 1940s and 1950s. It was named Myalgic Encephalomyelitis after London's Royal Free Hospital outbreak in 1955.

After the Incline village outbreak in Nevada in 1984, the disease came to be called and redefined as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

Outbreaks[new][edit source][reply]

Name Date Region Location Notes
Los Angeles atypical polio outbreak 1934 North America Los Angeles, USA Epidemic among personnel at L.A. County Hospital, Ruth Protection Home and throughout California, paralleling poliomyelitis, often diagnosed as atypical poliomyelitis, sometimes including arthropathy.
Fond-du-Lac outbreak 1936 North America Fond-du-Lac, Wisconsin, USA An outbreak of "encephalitis" in St. Agnes Convent.
Erstfeld outbreak 1937 Europe Erstfeld, Switzerland Outbreak described as "Abortive Poliomyelitis"
St. Gallen outbreak 1937 Europe St. Gallen, Switzerland Outbreak in Frohburg Hospital described as "Abortive Poliomyelitis"
Middlesex outbreak 1939 Europe Middlesex, England Outbreak at Harefield Sanatorium - "Persistent myalgia following sore throat"
Degersheim outbreak 1939 Europe Degersheim, St. Gallen, Switzerland Outbreak described as "Abortive Poliomyelitis"
Pennsylvania outbreak 1945 Europe University Hospital of Pennsylvania, USA Epidemic described as "pleurodynia with prominent neurological symptoms and no demonstrable cause."
Iceland outbreak 1946-47 Europe Iceland "Mixed epidemics of poliomyelitis and a disease resembling poliomyelitis with the character of the Akureyri Disease."
Akureyri outbreak 1948-49 Europe North Coast Towns, Iceland "A disease epidemic in Iceland simulating Poliomyelitis" in three separate towns during this time.
Adelaide outbreak 1949-1953 Oceania Adelaide, Australia Outbreak of a disease resembling poliomyelitis, during/after a poliomyelitis epidemic.
Louisville outbreak 1950 North America Louisville, Kentucky, USA Outbreak in the Nurse's Training School of St. Joseph Infirmary, later described as "epidemic neuromyasthenia."
Upper New York State outbreak 1950 North America Upper New York State, USA Outbreak described as resembling the "Iceland Disease...simulating Acute Anterior Poliomyelitis."
London outbreak 1952 Europe London, England Outbreak at Middlesex Hospital Nurses' Home described as "Encephalomyelitis associated with Poliomyelitis Virus."
Copenhagen outbreak 1952 Europe Copenhagen, Denmark Outbreak described as "epidemic myositis."
Florida outbreak 1952 North America Lakeland, Florida, USA Outbreak described as epidemic neuromyasthenia.
Coventry outbreak 1953 Europe Coventry and Coventry District, England "An illness resembling Poliomyelitis observed in nurses."
Maryland outbreak 1953 North America Rockville, Maryland, USA Chestnut Lodge Hospital student nurses described with poliomyelitis-like epidemic neuromyasthenia.
Jutland outbreak 1953 Europe Jutland, Denmark Outbreak of "Epidemic encephalitis with vertigo."
Florida outbreak 1954 North America Tallahassee, Florida, USA Bond JO. A new clinical entity? Lancet 1956; 2:256.<!!! fix this --->
Seward outbreak 1954 North America Seward, Alaska Outbreak described as "Benign Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (Iceland Disease)."
Berlin outbreak 1954 Europe Berlin, Germany Among the British Army, a "further outbreak of a disease resembling poliomyelitis."
Liverpool outbreak 1954 Europe Liverpool, England Outbreak among medical and nursing staff in a Liverpool Hospital.
Dalston outbreak 1954 Europe Dalston, Cumbria, England " unusual disease seen in epidemic and sporadic form in general practice in 1955 and subsequent years."
Royal Free Hospital outbreak 1955 Europe London, England Famous outbreak of benign myalgic encephalomyelitis among Royal Free Hospital staff.
Perth AUS outbreak 1955 Oceania Perth, Australia "Virus epidemic in recurrent waves."
Wales outbreak 1955 Europe Gilfach Goch, Wales Outbreak of Benign encephalomyelitis.
Durban outbreak 1955 Africa Durban and Durban City, South Africa 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.
Segbwema outbreak 1955-56 Africa Segbwema, Sierra Leone An outbreak of encephalomyelitis.
Iceland outbreak 1955-56 Europe Patreksfordur and Thorshofn, Iceland Unusual response to poliomyelitis vaccination.
London outbreak 1955-56 Europe North West London, England Outbreak of acute infective encephalomyelitis simulating poliomyelitis among a residential home for nurses.
Ridgefield outbreak 1956 North America Ridgefield, Connecticut, USA An epidemic of neuromyasthenia.
Punta Gorda outbreak 1956 North America Punta Gorda, Florida, USA An outbreak of epidemic neuromyasthenia.
Lancashire outbreak 1956 Europe Newton-le-Willows, Lancashire, England 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.
Massachusetts outbreak 1956 North America Pittsfield, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA 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 Echo Virus infections; benign myalgic encephalomyelitis.)
Coventry outbreak 1956-57 Europe Coventry, England Outbreak described as epidemic malaise and benign myalgic encephalomyelitis.
South Australia outbreak 1957 Oceania Brighton, South Australia Outbreak described as "Coxsackie, Echo Virus meningitis and myalgic encephalomyelitis", "Epidemic myalgic encephalomyelitis," and "Benign myalgic encephalomyelitis."
Athens outbreak 1958 Europe Athens, Greece 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.)
London SW outbreak 1958-59 Europe South-West London, England Reports of sporadic cases of myalgic encephalomyelitis.
Newcastle outbreak 1959 Europe Newcastle upon Tyne, England Outbreak of benign myalgic encephalomylitis.
London NW outbreak 1959 Europe North-West London, England Reports of sporadic cases of influenza-like illness.
England outbreak 1959 Europe England Article describing sporadic cases and "The psychiatric sequelae of Benign Myalgic Encephalomyelitis."
Basel outbreak 1961 Europe Basel, Switzerland Sporadic case of benign myalgic encephalomyelitis described.
New York State outbreak 1961-62 North America New York State, USA Outbreak described as epidemic neuromyasthenia in a convent in New York State.
London NW outbreak 1964-66 Europe North-West London, England Outbreak described as epidemic malaise and epidemic neuromyasthenia.
Franklin outbreak 1964-66 North America Franklin, Kentucky, USA Outbreak of "neuromyasthenia" in a Kentucky factory, possibly due to mercury exposure.
Galveston outbreak 1965-66 North America Galveston County, Texas, USA Outbreak described as "Epidemic Neuromyasthenia Variant?" and "Epidemic Diencephalomyelitis," the latter describing neuropsychiatric, cardiovascular and endocrine disorders.
Edinburgh outbreak 1967-70 Europe Edinburgh, Scotland Sporadic cases resembling benign myalgic encephalomyelitis.
Fraidek outbreak 1968 Europe Fraidek, Lebanon Report on an epidemic of benign myalgic encephalomyelitis.
New York outbreak 1969 North America State University of New York, USA Medical Centre - report of epidemic Neuromyasthenia and "unidentified symptom complex."
Lackland outbreak 1970 North America Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, USA Epidemic Neuromyasthenia reported. "A syndrome or disease?"
London outbreak 1970-71 Europe London, England An outbreak of "epidemic neuromyasthenia" among nurses a the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Oromond Street.
Sacramento outbreak 1975 North America Sacramento, California, USA "200 hospital staff in the [Mercy San Juan Hospital] fell ill in August September 1975. The epidemic appears to have spread to the children of the hospital staff and from there to the children's teachers. 43 have been seriously disabled with chronic illness from 1975-1992" [at publication of this text][1].
Ireland SW outbreak 1976 Europe Southwest Ireland Reports on Mylagic Encephalomyelits and epidemic neuromyasthenia in this region.
Dallas outbreak 1977 North America Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, USA "Epidemic Neuromyasthenia" reported.
Southampton outbreak 1979 Europe Southampton, England Outbreak of M.E. in a girls' school.

Outbreaks by Decade[new][edit source][reply]

1978 - Symposium[new][edit source][reply]

[Ed. note: Dr. Hyde's text notes that the first major M.E./CFS Symposium was held at the Royal Society of Medicine in London in this year. M.E. aka epidemic neuromyasthenia, viral relationships to this disease, biochemical abnormalities in patients and other subjects were discussed by experts such as Shelokov, Ramsay, Richardson, Behan, Parish and others.][2]

1980s[new][edit source][reply]

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

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

1980-83 - Helensburgh, Scotland[new][edit source][reply]

Coxsackie B outbreak reported in a general practice.

1981-82 - Stirlingshire, Scotland[new][edit source][reply]

Sporadic cases of M.E. reported.

1981 - Gunnedah, NSW, Australia[new][edit source][reply]

The Gunnedah outbreak was linked with pesticides, which were conjectured to be interacting with viruses and other environmental chemicals in a post-viral syndrome.[3] 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.[4]

1982-84 - Tapanui & West Otago, New Zealand[new][edit source][reply]

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)[new][edit source][reply]

"From 1984 until 1992 [at publication of this text] an endemic period occurred in which an usually large number of cluster and epidemics of M.E./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, USA[new][edit source][reply]

A chronic illness characterized by fatigue, neurologic and immunologic disorders and active human herpesvirus type 6 infection. This community epidemic, apparently started in a girls' basketball team, then involved primarily teacher in at least three high schools, and then large numbers of the community.[5]

1984 - Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA[new][edit source][reply]

"Epidemic amongst members of The North Carolina Symphony Orchestra. Low NKC [Natural Killer Cells] associated with high yield of lymphoma, astrocytoma, glioma."

1984 - Montreal, Quebec-Ontario, Canada[new][edit source][reply]

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, USA[new][edit source][reply]

M.E. epidemic involving teachers and students.

1985 - Lyndonville, New York, USA[new][edit source][reply]

M.E. epidemic in a rural community involving children and adults.[5]

1985 Yerington, Nevada, USA[new][edit source][reply]

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, USA[new][edit source][reply]

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

1988 - Sonora, California, USA[new][edit source][reply]

"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[new][edit source][reply]


1989 - Roseville, California, USA[new][edit source][reply]

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

1990s[new][edit source][reply]

1990 - Elk Grove, California, USA[new][edit source][reply]

M.E. epidemic among teachers and students.

temp[new][edit source][reply]

(to be moved to subpage for Adelaide 1949-1953 epidemic]

  • 1951-06-30: "The author describes a disease which has been epidemic in Adelaide since August 1949, and which closely resembles poliomyelitis. Its most characteristic feature is the absence of abnormal findings in the cerebrospinal fluid. Thus, out of 1,350 consecutive cases of " poliomyelitis ", 800 had less than 10 cells per cubic millimetre in the cerebrospinal fluid (the majority had less than 5 cells); and the protein values were normal in all but 2 of these cases.
  • The onset of this illness was either gradual or sudden and, if sudden, headache was a constant feature and often of marked intensity. Muscle weakness - generally slight and diffuse in distribution - occurred more commonly in the legs than in the arms. Where paralysis was severe, rapid recovery generally ensued. Two noteworthy features of the muscle involvement in this disease were as follows: the pain frequently persisted in various muscles for periods up to six months after the acute illness; in some cases the onset of muscle weakness was delayed for several months. The ultimate prognosis was always good, but frequent recurrences were not uncommon. The greatest disabling feature of the disease lay in the psychological sequelae which were fairly constant and comprised one or more of the following - lack of concentration, depression, irritability, emotional instability and hyperacuity of hearing. These manifestations, however, eventually resolved completely".[7]
1952-02-01: "Dr. R.A. Pellew, of Adelaide, who will also address the conference, believes that most of SA's 3,130 polio cases during the past two years and nine months have suffered a mild form of the disease."[8]
  • 1955: The Adelaide outbreak of atypical polio was associated with a reduction in typical polio cases. "There was ... a marked regression of [typical] poliomyelitis in South Australia (413 notifications as compared with 721)." (from page 645 of 1955 WHO report [9])

Outbreaks by region[new][edit source][reply]

North America[new][edit source][reply]

Europe[new][edit source][reply]

Africa[new][edit source][reply]

Australia and New Zealand[new][edit source][reply]

Related Lists[new][edit source][reply]

References[new][edit source][reply]


  1. need more info
  2. to be moved
  3. 3.03.1 "M.E.: a mystery illness affecting Australians" The Canberra Times (newspaper) 12 November 1987: 19.
  4. Video - "More Than Just Poison" Arafura Films, 1986
  5. "Chronic Fatigue Syndrome", NewsWeek, November 11, 1990
  6. ME/CFS Society of Western Australia - Endemic Outbreaks
  7. Dr R.A. Pellew, "A Clinical Description of a Disease resembling Poliomyelitis, seen in Adelaide, 1949-1951" Medical Journal of Australia, Medical Journal of Australia 1951, June 30 Vol. 1 No. 26 pp. 944-6
  8. "Conference on Polio" "The Advertiser, Adelaide Australia, 01 February 1952
  9. "Poliomyelitis in 1953" Bull World Health Organ. 1955;12(4):595-649.

myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) - A disease often marked by neurological symptoms, but fatigue is sometimes a symptom as well. Some diagnostic criteria distinguish it from chronic fatigue syndrome, while other diagnostic criteria consider it to be a synonym for chronic fatigue syndrome. A defining characteristic of ME is post-exertional malaise (PEM), or post-exertional neuroimmune exhaustion (PENE), which is a notable exacerbation of symptoms brought on by small exertions. PEM can last for days or weeks. Symptoms can include cognitive impairments, muscle pain (myalgia), trouble remaining upright (orthostatic intolerance), sleep abnormalities, and gastro-intestinal impairments, among others. An estimated 25% of those suffering from ME are housebound or bedbound. The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies ME as a neurological disease.

myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) - A disease often marked by neurological symptoms, but fatigue is sometimes a symptom as well. Some diagnostic criteria distinguish it from chronic fatigue syndrome, while other diagnostic criteria consider it to be a synonym for chronic fatigue syndrome. A defining characteristic of ME is post-exertional malaise (PEM), or post-exertional neuroimmune exhaustion (PENE), which is a notable exacerbation of symptoms brought on by small exertions. PEM can last for days or weeks. Symptoms can include cognitive impairments, muscle pain (myalgia), trouble remaining upright (orthostatic intolerance), sleep abnormalities, and gastro-intestinal impairments, among others. An estimated 25% of those suffering from ME are housebound or bedbound. The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies ME as a neurological disease.

World Health Organization (WHO) - "A specialized agency of the United Nations that is concerned with public health. It was established on 7 April 1948, and is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. The WHO is a member of the United Nations Development Group. Its predecessor, the Health Organization, was an agency of the League of Nations." The International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD) is maintained by WHO.

The information provided at this site is not intended to diagnose or treat any illness.
From MEpedia, a crowd-sourced encyclopedia of ME and CFS science and history.