University of Dundee University of Dundee
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7 September 2010

Evidence of persistent infection in children with ME

University of Dundee scientists investigating Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME) in children have found abnormalities in blood cells involved in inflammation.

Indicative of a possible viral infection, they are similar to those previously identified in adults with the condition.

Samples taken from youngsters contained higher than normal levels of free radicals, molecules which can damage cells, tissues and organs via a process called oxidative stress. Also, a much greater number of neutrophils, the most common type of white blood cells, were found to be at the end of their life cycle. The high turnover of neutrophils indicates the body's need to fight infection.

Increased oxidative stress can arise from a variety of factors, such as a lack of antioxidants, like vitamins C and E, in the diet, but can also occur when white blood cells are chronically stimulated, for instance, by an infection. The combination of this stress and the quantity of white blood cells points to ongoing inflammation which may be a response to an infection.

Published in Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, the findings could be linked to a risk of cardiovascular problems like heart disease and stroke, though researchers highlight the need for more studies to build upon their work.

Dr Gwen Kennedy, at the University of Dundee, who led the team said: "These results are of great importance; not only do they show an underlying, detectable defect in the behaviour of the children's immune cells, they also confirm our previous findings in adults."

Dr Neil Abbot, of ME Research UK, one of the charities which funded the research said: "Although the cause of ME is unknown, more than half of all patients say their illness started with an infection. It is therefore fascinating to discover evidence of a persistent or reactivating viral infection. The study undoubtedly adds greater scientific weight to the existence of a condition which, sadly, many still fail to acknowledge in spite of its severity."

Jane Colby, of the Young ME Sufferers (Tymes Trust), another of the funders said: "The medical profession must now take the consequences of ME in children seriously, and research into prevention and treatment must be given a high priority. Children with ME are too often treated with scepticism by the healthcare system, and even denied their right to suitable education and other support."

Notes to Editors:

  1. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME) is a debilitating disease that affects up to 15,000 children in the UK at any one time. It is characterized by physical and mental exhaustion following normal activities (quite different from what is normally experienced by healthy people) and symptoms include muscle pain, sore throat, tender lymph nodes, multi-joint pain, headaches etc.
  2. 25 children with ME and 23 healthy children were recruited from across the UK to take part in the research; the latter were matched for age, gender and state of puberty in order to draw as valid a comparison as possible. The initial diagnosis of CFS/ME had been made by the children's local consultant or paediatrician or general practictioner and was confirmed by the searchers from clinical examination.
  3. The study was funded by ME Research UK and The Young ME Sufferers (Tymes) Trust.

ME Research UK commissions and funds scientific research into the causes, consequences and treatment of ME. See for more details.

The Young ME Sufferers (Tymes) Trust is the longest-established UK service for children and young people with ME and their families. It is a respected national charity whose entire team give their time free of charge. It runs an Advice Line, provides access to ME experts for doctors, teachers and social workers and produces a magazine for children, families and professionals. The Trust played a major role in producing the children’s section of the Dept of Health Report on CFS/ME (2002). It promotes interactive virtual education for children with ME, and provides the Tymes Trustcard - a pass card for children in school, endorsed by the Association of School and College Leaders. See for details and free publications.

The University of Dundee is internationally recognised for its excellence in life sciences and medical research with particular expertise in cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and tropical diseases. The University has a top-rated medical school with research expanding from "the cell to the clinic to the community", while the College of Life Sciences is home to some of the world’s most cited scientists and home to 800 research staff from 60 different countries. Dundee is also the UK's third highest generator of per capita research income, much of it focussed on medical and life sciences research. See for more details.