List of myalgic encephalomyelitis and chronic fatigue syndrome outbreaks
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]
Epidemic among personnel at L.A. County Hospital, Ruth Protection Home and throughout California, paralleling poliomyelitis, often diagnosed as atypical poliomyelitis, sometimes including arthropathy.
Outbreak in the women's section of a hospital in St Gallen, Switzerland affecting 28 staff and patients. They were diagnosed with "Abortive Poliomyelitis." 
1940s[edit | edit source]
Epidemic described as "pleurodynia with prominent neurological symptoms and no demonstrable cause."
"Mixed epidemics of poliomyelitis and a disease resembling poliomyelitis with the character of the Akureyri Disease."
"A disease epidemic in Iceland simulating Poliomyelitis" in three separate towns during this time.
Outbreak of a disease resembling poliomyelitis, during/after a poliomyelitis epidemic.
1950s[edit | edit source]
Outbreak in the Nurse's Training School of St. Joseph Infirmary, later described as "epidemic neuromyasthenia."
Outbreak described as resembling the "Iceland Disease...simulating Acute Anterior Poliomyelitis."
Outbreak at Middlesex Hospital Nurses' Home described as "Encephalomyelitis associated with Poliomyelitis Virus."
Outbreak described as "epidemic myositis."
Outbreak described as epidemic neuromyasthenia.
"An illness resembling Poliomyelitis observed in nurses."
Chestnut Lodge Hospital student nurses described with poliomyelitis-like epidemic neuromyasthenia.
Outbreak of "Epidemic encephalitis with vertigo."
Bond JO. A new clinical entity? Lancet 1956; 2:256.
Outbreak described as "Benign Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (Iceland Disease)."
Among the British Army, a "further outbreak of a disease resembling poliomyelitis."
Outbreak among medical and nursing staff in a Liverpool Hospital.
"...an unusual disease seen in epidemic and sporadic form in general practice in 1955 and subsequent years."
"Virus epidemic in recurrent waves."
Outbreak of Benign encephalomyelitis.
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]
An outbreak of encephalomyelitis.
Unusual response to poliomyelitis vaccination.
An epidemic of neuromyasthenia.
An outbreak of epidemic neuromyasthenia.
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.
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.)
Outbreak described as epidemic malaise and benign myalgic encephalomyelitis.
Outbreak described as "Coxsackie, Echo Virus meningitis and myalgic encephalomyelitis", "Epidemic myalgic encephalomyelitis," and "Benign myalgic encephalomyelitis."
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.)
Reports of sporadic cases of myalgic encephalomyelitis.
Outbreak of benign myalgic encephalomylitis.
Reports of sporadic cases of influenza-like illness.
Article describing sporadic cases and "The psychiatric sequelae of Benign Myalgic Encephalomyelitis."
1960s[edit | edit source]
Sporadic case of benign myalgic encephalomyelitis described.
Outbreak described as epidemic neuromyasthenia in a convent in New York State.
Outbreak described as epidemic malaise and epidemic neuromyasthenia occurred in North Finchley, a suburb of London, England.
Outbreak of "neuromyasthenia" in a Kentucky factory, possibly due to mercury exposure.
Outbreak described as "Epidemic Neuromyasthenia Variant?" and "Epidemic Diencephalomyelitis," the latter describing neuropsychiatric, cardiovascular and endocrine disorders.
Sporadic cases resembling benign myalgic encephalomyelitis.
Report on an epidemic of benign myalgic encephalomyelitis.
Medical Centre - report of epidemic Neuromyasthenia and "unidentified symptom complex."
1970s[edit | edit source]
Epidemic Neuromyasthenia reported. "A syndrome or disease?"
An outbreak of "epidemic neuromyasthenia" among nurses a the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Oromond Street.
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.
Reports on Mylagic Encephalomyelits and epidemic neuromyasthenia in this region.
"Epidemic Neuromyasthenia" reported.
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.
M.E. epidemic reported in a rural medical practice.
Coxsackie B outbreak reported in a general practice.
Sporadic cases of M.E. reported.
The Gunnedah outbreak was linked with pesticides, which were conjectured to be interacting with viruses and other environmental chemicals in a post-viral syndrome. 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.
Outbreak first described and an "unexplained illness," later as M.E. Included here are outbreaks in Dunedin and Hamilton New Zealand.
"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-
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
M.E. epidemic in a rural community involving children and adults.
In the same area [not far from Truckee, California] an M.E./CFS-like epidemic reputedly occurred in a reservation of American Native people.
Outbreak of chronic fatigue syndrome 'coincident with a heavy contamination of the local unfiltered water supply'.
"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."
Rosedale Hospital reported 11 cases of M.E./CFS among staff.
1990s[edit | edit source]
M.E. epidemic among teachers and students.
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.
2000s[edit | edit source]
The 2003 Hong Kong outbreak of chronic fatigue syndrome was caused by the SARS pandemic.
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]
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2020s[edit | edit source]
[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. 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]
- 1934 - Los Angeles, US
- 1936 - Fond-du-Lac, Wisconsin, US
- 1945 - University Hospital of Pennsylvania, US
- 1950 - Louisville, Kentucky, US
- 1950 - Upper New York State, US
- 1952 - Lakeland, Florida, US
- 1953 - Rockville, Maryland, US
- 1954 - Tallahassee, Florida, US
- 1954 - Seward, Alaska, US
- 1956 - Ridgefield, Connecticut, US
- 1956 - Punta Gorda, Florida, US
- 1956 - Pittsfield, Williamstown, Massachusetts, US
- 1961-62 - New York State, US
- 1964-66 - Franklin, Kentucky, US
- 1965-66 - Galveston County, Texas, US
- 1969 - State University of New York, US
- 1970 - Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, US
- 1975 - Sacramento, California, US
- 1977 - Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, US
- 1984 - Incline village, Lake Tahoe, Nevada, US
- 1984 - Chapel Hill, North Carolina, US
- 1984-85 - Truckee, California, US
- 1985 - Lyndonville, New York, US
- 1985 Yerington, Nevada, US
- 1986 - Placerville, California, US
- 1988 - Sonora, California, US
- 1989 - Roseville, California, US
- 1990 - Elk Grove, California, US
- 1996 - Mohave Valley region, Arizona, US
Europe[edit | edit source]
Denmark[edit | edit source]
Germany[edit | edit source]
Greece[edit | edit source]
Iceland[edit | edit source]
- 1946-47 - Iceland
- 1948-49 - North Coast Towns, Iceland
- 1955-56 - Patreksfordur and Thorshofn, Iceland
Ireland[edit | edit source]
Norway[edit | edit source]
Switzerland[edit | edit source]
- 1937 - Erstfeld, Switzerland
- 1937 - St. Gallen, Switzerland
- 1939 - Degersheim, St. Gallen, Switzerland
- 1961 - Basel, Switzerland
United Kingdom[edit | edit source]
- 1939 - Middlesex, England
- 1952 - London, England
- 1953 - Coventry and Coventry District, England
- 1954 - Liverpool, England
- 1954 - Dalston, Cumbria, England
- 1955 - London, England
- 1955 - Gilfach Goch, Wales
- 1955-57 Royal Free Hospital, North West London, England
- 1956 - Newton-le-Willows, Lancashire, England
- 1956-57 - Coventry, England
- 1958-59 - S.W. London, England
- 1959 - Newcastle upon Tyne, England
- 1959 - N.W. London, England
- 1959 - England
- 1964-66 - N.W. London, England
- 1967-70 - Edinburgh, Scotland
- 1970-71 - London, England
- 1979 - Southampton, England
- 1980-81 - West Kilbridge, Ayrshire, Scotland
- 1980-83 - Helensburgh, Scotland
- 1981-82 - Stirlingshire, Scotland
Asia[edit | edit source]
Lebanon[edit | edit source]
Hong Kong[edit | edit source]
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]
- 1949-1953 - Adelaide, Australia
- 1955 - Perth, Australia
- 1957 - Brighton, South Australia
- 1981 - Gunnedah, NSW, Australia
- 1988 - Narrabeen, NSW, Australia
New Zealand[edit | edit source]
- 2003 Hong Kong outbreak- the same virus caused a fibromyalgia-like syndrome in Canada
- 2019 Coronavirus pandemic outbreak
Related lists[edit | edit source]
- Myalgic Encephalomyelitis and Post Viral Fatigue States: the Saga of the Royal Free Disease by Dr Melvin Ramsay, 1955.
- Reference index of papers published on epidemics of ME 1934-80 (collected by Dr J. Gordon Parish), ME Research UK, 1980.
- The Clinical and Scientific Basis of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (edited by Dr. Byron Hyde), Nightingale Foundation, 1992.
See also[edit | edit source]
- Epidemic myalgic encephalomyelitis
- Definitions of ME and CFS
- Eightfold increase in ME/CFS incidence in the 1980s
Learn more[edit | edit source]
References[edit | edit source]
- 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.
- 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.
- Roueché, Berton (November 19, 1965). "In The Bughouse". 41 (Part 6). The New Yorker. p. 208.
- Parish, J.G. (November 1978). "Early outbreaks of 'epidemic neuromyasthenia'". Postgraduate Medical Journal. 54 (637): 711-717. PMID 370810.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- "Infectious Venulitis". ncf-net.org. Retrieved October 17, 2020.
- Ryll, Erich (Fall 2005). "Infectious Venulitis". Archived from the original on October 22, 2015. Retrieved April 9, 2022.
- "M.E.: a mystery illness affecting Australians" The Canberra Times (newspaper) 12 November 1987: 19.
- Video - "More Than Just Poison" Arafura Films, 1986
- "Chronic Fatigue Syndrome". Newsweek. November 11, 1990.
- ME/CFS Society of Western Australia - Endemic Outbreaks
- "Stealth Virus Epidemic in the Mohave Valley". ccid.org. Retrieved October 17, 2020.
- NIHR (October 2020). "Living with covid-19. A dynamic review of the evidence around ongoing covid-19 symptoms (often called long covid)". evidence.nihr.ac.uk. Retrieved October 15, 2020.