1984 Incline Village chronic fatigue syndrome outbreak

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In 1984, there was an outbreak of myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) (then thought to be Chronic Epstein-Barr virus) at Incline Village, Nevada, United States.[1] Incline Village is a small town on the north shore of Lake Tahoe.

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) was the name coined by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in response to an outbreak of "chronic flu-like illness" at Incline Village.[2]

Outbreak[edit | edit source]

An estimated 160 residents of Incline Village became ill with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) the winter of 1985 of which the majority were seen by local doctors, Paul Cheney and Daniel Peterson.[3]

Dr. Anthony Komaroff studied 175 cases around Lake Tahoe and found "quite a number" have been fully or partially disabled while a third said their condition improved.[4]

Truckee, California High School[edit | edit source]

During this same time, about 20 miles away, Truckee, California was involved in a similar outbreak. Nine of 10 teachers using a conference room at the same high school were found to be suffering from sick building syndrome (SBS) as well as symptoms typical of CFS.[5][6]

Local response[edit | edit source]

Paul Cheney and Dan Peterson[edit | edit source]

Doctors who practiced at Incline Village and experienced the outbreak first hand include Daniel Peterson and Paul Cheney. They have continued to work in the ME/CFS field.

CDC investigation[edit | edit source]

'The CDC showed up eventually, but they refused to examine any of the patients. Stephen Straus called it a disease of “depressed menopausal women.” HHS made this characterization known to the press, which then dubbed the disease “Yuppie Flu.”'[7]

The local doctors seemed to be defending their scorned and disabled patients from the CDC and medical establishment.[8]

In an interview with Hillary Johnson, she spoke about Incline Village and the CDC response. "In 1984-85, a large number of people living in Incline Village, Nevada, were devastated by a mysterious, debilitating disease, now known to be Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. After a cursory investigation of the outbreak, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have made little effort to aggressively research the disease. It was not until 1995--ten years later--that scientists at the CDC gave CFS a "Priority 1" listing among their "New and Reemerging Infectious Diseases" category, thus officially recognizing it as a bona fide disease. Despite including CFS in this category, these agencies continue to insist there is no evidence that CFS is infectious."[9]

Although the CDC did not examine patients when they were sent to investigate the mysterious illness they were called in for, they somehow were able to, at a later date, produce a report based on whether or not the patients were experiencing Chronic Epstein-Barr virus. The non-conclusion was: "Currently available data neither prove nor disprove the hypothesis that EBV activity is responsible for chronic illness, but it is clear that the diagnosis of CEBV using current clinical and laboratory criteria in an individual patient is unreliable."[10]

Media coverage[edit | edit source]

Possible causes[edit | edit source]

Herpes viruses[edit | edit source]

Gary Holmes found that patients in Nevada near the outbreak with what his team hypothesized was chronic Epstein-Barr virus had elevated antibody titers to several herpesviruses including Epstein-Barr virus, cytomegalovirus, and herpes simplex, as well as measles viruses than age-matched controls.[11] However, the study cohort was defined as patients who had experienced excessive fatigue between January 1 and September 15.

Dr. Paul Cheney theorizes that a particularly virulent strain of HHV-6 swept the population.[12] He found that the sufferers were "mass-producing antibodies to Epstein-Barr virus, the herpes virus that causes infectious mononucleosis." Dr. Cheney contacted the CDC to report the outbreak.[13]

Biotoxin exposure[edit | edit source]

Erik Johnson, a patient who pioneered mold avoidance for CFS, theorizes that an outbreak of toxic cyanobacteria (blue green algae) on Lake Tahoe located near Incline Village, combined with other biotoxins such as toxic mold, may have created susceptibility to a viral infection and caused the outbreak.[14] It has been observed that the outbreak in Tahoe shared some but not all features with Sick Building Syndrome, and that the cluster of teachers who became sick at Truckee high school involved teachers who all used the same lounge, which may have had a chemical or biotoxin. [15]

Learn more[edit | edit source]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Chronic Fatigue Possibly Related to Epstein-Barr Virus -- Nevada - CDC
  2. Boffey, Philip M. (Jul 28, 1987). "Fatigue 'Virus' Has Experts More Baffled And Skeptical Than Ever". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved Feb 17, 2019. 
  3. 160 Victims at Lake Tahoe : Chronic Flu-Like Illness a Medical Mystery Story - LA Times
  4. Fatigue 'Virus' Has Experts More Baffled And Skeptical Than Ever - NY Times - July 1987
  5. Concurrent sick building syndrome and chronic fatigue syndrome: epidemic neuromyasthenia revisited.
  6. Concurrent Sick Building Syndrome and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Epidemic Neuromyasthenia Revisited - Oxford Journals
  7. The Incline Village Outbreak - By; Sarah Allegra
  8. Original Sin: Incline Village - Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Myalgic Encephalomyelitis - By: Cort Johnson
  9. Hillary Johnson Talks About Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Her New Book, Osler's Web
  10. Chronic Fatigue Possibly Related to Epstein-Barr Virus -- Nevada - CDC
  11. Holmes, Gary P (May 1, 1987). "A Cluster of Patients With a Chronic Mononucleosis-like Syndrome Is Epstein-Barr Virus the Cause?". Journal of the American Medical Association. 257: 2297–2302. 
  12. Unreleased Canary in a Coal Mine interview, 2015.
  13. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome - Newsweek - Nov 11, 1990
  14. Paradigm Change - Avoidance
  15. Chester, A. C.; Levine, P. H. (Jan 1994). "Concurrent sick building syndrome and chronic fatigue syndrome: epidemic neuromyasthenia revisited". Clinical Infectious Diseases: An Official Publication of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. 18 Suppl 1: S43–48. ISSN 1058-4838. PMID 8148452. 

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