Intended for healthcare professionals


Managing chronic fatigue syndrome in children

BMJ 1997; 314 doi: (Published 07 June 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;314:1635

Liaise with family and teachers to keep morale high and minimise disability

  1. Harvey Marcovitch, Consultant paediatriciana
  1. a Horton Hospital, Banbury, OX16 9AL

    Last month the British press made much of a study purporting to show that chronic fatigue syndrome was the single commonest cause of long term absence from school in Britain.1 The authors claimed to have calculated prevalence figures for both pupils (0.07%) and teachers (0.5%) similar to previously reported figures for the general population.2 3 4 Dowsett and Colby make much of “clusters” of cases, defined as three or more cases in a school. The press release distributed by one of the authors states that 39% of cases occurred in such clusters, saying that this “suggests that ME results from an infection.” It refers to one cluster extending over several schools in an area where there was “recreational water heavily polluted by sewage.” The published paper contains no reference to pollution by sewage or anything else, but only to several cases in “schools near two new towns in a rural environment alongside recreational water.”

    Unfortunately, the data from this questionnaire survey are heavily overinterpreted. The response rate was only 37% of schools contacted, no attempt was made to define whether non-responders differed from responders, and the local educational authority districts surveyed were chosen on the basis of social and geographical diversity but also “their interest in the project.” It is not clear on what …

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