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New Zealanders with myalgic encephalopathy (ME) - commonly known as chronic fatigue syndrome - are looking at studies in the United States that show a possible link between the illness and a retrovirus.
The Associated New Zealand ME Society (ANZMES) which helps victims of the condition said today that investigations by the United States National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had confirmed a strong association with a family of murine leukaemia viruses (MLV), that includes xenotropic murine leukaemia virus-related virus (XMRV).
"Although this is at the early stages of investigation it does show that ME is a real physical illness and patients need long-term medical support and assistance from others," said ANZMES president Heather Wilson.
The initial study found XMRV virus in the blood of two-thirds of the 101 chronic fatigue patients tested.
Ms Wilson said that though there was no cure for the illness and there were difficulties in making a clear diagnosis, the latest research may lead to both a diagnostic tool and a treatment, potentially using medications already in use today for other conditions.
It is thought as many as 20,000 people in New Zealand suffer from ME.
Chronic fatigue was first identified in New Zealand, when West Otago doctor Peter Snow identified what became popularly known as "Tapanui flu".
After hundreds of Americans in Nevada also developed fatigue and memory problems after suffering flu-like symptoms, the US Centres for Disease Control labelled the illness chronic fatigue syndrome.