Despite the government's stance and the disease's name, CFS has one of the highest morbidity rates (degrees of suffering) of any illness, rivaling the physical misery of advanced cardiac disease and cancer. Dr. Phillip Peterson, head of the infectious-diseases department at Minneapolis's county medical center, opened a CFS research clinic there in 1988. The average age of the clinic's patients was then 38, and 80% were women. "Roughly half the patients could walk only three blocks or less," Peterson says. He and his collaborators explored the "functional severity," or degree of disability CFS imposes, using the Medical Outcome Study, in which a score of 100 is "best health." They compared their patients' scores with those of healthy people and people who had suffered a heart attack or who had rheumatoid arthritis. Healthy people scored an average of 75, heart attack patients in the mid-40s and victims of rheumatoid arthritis slightly higher. Clinic patients scored, on average, 16.5, a level never before measured on the Medical Outcome Scale. University of Minnesota medical professor. Dr. Nicole Lurie had to redraw the scale to accommodate the clinic patients for a formal paper Peterson used on the subject. A 1991 study, published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, compared the severity of CFS with that of multiple sclerosis, lupus, and Lyme disease and found CFS to involve significantly more debilitating fatigue.
By Hillary Johnson. Excerpted from her article "The Invisible Epidemic," Working Woman Magazine, Dec. 1994.
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