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The Enterovirus Theory Of Disease Etiology In Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: A Critical Review

Adam J. O'Neal, Maureen R. Hanson

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Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) is a complex, multi-system disease whose etiological basis has not been established. Enteroviruses (EVs) as a cause of ME/CFS have sometimes been proposed, as they are known agents of acute respiratory and gastrointestinal infections that may persist in secondary infection sites, including the central nervous system, muscle, and heart. To date, the body of research that has investigated enterovirus infections in relation to ME/CFS supports an increased prevalence of chronic or persistent enteroviral infections in ME/CFS patient cohorts than in healthy individuals. Nevertheless, inconsistent results have fueled a decline in related studies over the past two decades. This review covers the aspects of ME/CFS pathophysiology that are consistent with a chronic enterovirus infection and critically reviews methodologies and approaches used in past EV-related ME/CFS studies. We describe the prior sample types that were interrogated, the methods used and the limitations to the approaches that were chosen. We conclude that there is considerable evidence that prior outbreaks of ME/CFS were caused by one or more enterovirus groups. Furthermore, we find that the methods used in prior studies were inadequate to rule out the presence of chronic enteroviral infections in individuals with ME/CFS. Given the possibility that such infections could be contributing to morbidity and preventing recovery, further studies of appropriate biological samples with the latest molecular methods are urgently needed.