Dr. Kenny De Meirleir of the Brussels Free University (VUB) has announced that he has successfully developed a diagnostic test for ME/CFS. The Myalgic Encephalopathy Association Belgium (MEAB) estimates there are between 30,000 to 40,000 people in Belgium with ME/CFS.
Since 2002, the Flemish government has invested over €10 million in five "reference centres" across the region in Leuven, Antwerp, Ghent and Brussels for the diagnosis and treatment for ME/CFS but offer only cognitive behavioural therapy and physical rehabilitation.
"These people have been mistreated for years," Dr De Meirleir says. "CFS was treated as a psychosomatic complaint. But someone who runs 10 metres after a bus and then has to spend a week in bed recovering has a serious medical problem."
The test, manufactured by Protea Biopharma, in which Dr De Meirleir is a partner, detects the presence of hydrogen sulphide (H2S), which is produced in the intestines when bacteria come in contact with heavy metals. People with ME/ CFS have been shown to have higher concentrations of intestinal bacteria than normal, which leads to higher levels of H2S.
H2S is a gas present in minuscule concentrations in normal people but at toxic levels in ME/CFS patients. The reasons for overproduction of bacteria can range from lactose intolerance to viral infection to stress.
According to the draft of a journal article soon to be published by Dr. De Meirleir and his team, H2S causes intolerance to light and noise, a depressed immune system and low white blood cell count. It also leads to retention of mercury by the body, which in turn produces cell death and damage to energy metabolism. The biggest effects, though, are produced on the central nervous system, explaining the main symptoms of ME/CFS.
"There's still a great deal of work to be done to find a cure" Dr. De Meirleir told Radio 1 listeners "CFS is not an illness, it's a condition," which means that the underlying causes of ME/CFS could vary widely and that each would have to be treated on its own.
Note: Dr. Kenny De Meirleir was one of the panel members of the Canadian ME/CFS Working Case Clinical Definition, Diagnostic & Treatment Protocols, a Consensus Document published in 2003 which can be viewed at http://www.mefmaction.com
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