Study Shows an Increase in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Following COVID-19 Pandemic

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Study findings suggest that biomarkers could provide greater insight into different disease mechanisms and how treatments options could be more beneficial for certain patients.

Chronic fatigue syndrome, or myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), has been reported to have increased among patients because of the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the authors of a study published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine.1

Senior woman having a headache and feeling sick in the bedroom at home - Image credit: Baba Images | stock.adobe.com

Image credit: Baba Images | stock.adobe.com

Eva Untersmayr-Elsenhuber and her team of researchers from the MedUni Vienna’s Center for Pathophysiology Infectiology and Immunology recently announced that they have discovered potential biomarkers for ME/CFS that could aid diagnosis and treatment progression in individuals that have experienced long-lasting fatigue.1

The multifactorial disease relates to immobilizing fatigue that could extend longer than a 6-month period. The World Health Organization reported to identify ME/CFS more than 50 years ago; however, its incidence has increased due to the rate of SARS-CoV-2 infections during the COVID-19 pandemic.2

The study authors noted that between 26,000 to 80,000 individuals who reside in Austria could experience ME/CFS — which may double in the next few years. Among patients impacted, 60% can no longer work full time and up to 25% are bedridden, as severe ME/CFS leads to an increased chance of disability.1

A subgroup of individuals diagnosed with long COVID-19 have experienced post-viral fatigue as a symptom, emphasizing the need for more research on ME/CFS to improve patient health.2 However, the development of the disease remains unknown and, without biomarkers, diagnosis and the range of people affected is difficult to assess, according to study authors.1

The research team at MedUni Vienna intended to assess the immunological and mucosal barrier-related insight of ME/CFS in Austrian cohorts to develop targeted therapies to improve patient outcomes.2

The study was conducted from June 2021 to November 2022, with a break from February 2022 to July 2022. The cohort included 39 individuals with ME/CFS and 19 healthy sex- and aged-matched control individuals. ME/CFS was identified in patients following neurologist-constructed criteria from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) following other fatigue medical conditions being ruled out. The IOM criteria note that to be diagnosed with ME/CFS, the patient must meet 3 symptoms, including “(1) a substantial reduction/impairment in the ability to engage in pre-illness levels of activity, (2) post-exertional malaise (PEM), and (3) unrefreshing sleep.”2

The study authors noted that the individuals with ME/CFS were divided into 2 groups—those with immunodeficiencies (20) and those without immunodeficiencies (19). Prior to the study, 45% of individuals with ME/CFS had immunodeficiencies, 42.15% did not have immunodeficiencies, and 84.2% of healthy controls had COVID-19 and were around 12 weeks past acute infection.2

During the study, blood was then collected in serum and plasma/EDTA vials on the day of study activity, according to study authors.2 According to the MedUni Vienna research team, findings displayed multiple biomarkers among individuals with immune system disorders that allowed clinical care identification in individuals with ME/CFS.1

"In our study, we see that the immunological evaluation of [patients with ME/CFS] is of crucial importance. Patients suffering from immunodeficiencies are characterized by an altered innate immune function," Elsenhuber said in a press release. "In [patients with ME/CFS] with an intact immune system, the intestinal barrier function was reduced."1

Furthermore, the authors noted that the findings suggest that the biomarkers could provide greater insight into different disease mechanisms and how treatment options could be more beneficial for certain patients.1

“ME/CFS Biobank Austria collects human samples, which will be made available for future research projects,” said Elsenhuber, in a press release. "To ensure that ME/CFS research can take place quickly and transnationally in the future, we have been coordinating with research groups in the UK, the Netherlands, and Germany from the outset."1

References
  1. Chronic fatigue syndrome: number of patients is expected to double due to long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. EurekAlert!. News release. February 15, 2024. Accessed March 4, 2024. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/1034516.
  2. Immunological Patient Stratification in Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. MDPI. News release. January 3, 2024. Accessed March 4, 2024. https://www.mdpi.com/2077-0383/13/1/275.
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