DEAR ABBY: In a recent column, Eugene Schoenfeld, M.D., stated, "There is no evidence for the misguided belief that chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome patients have a problem with their immune system, and all the reliable evidence indicates that they suffer from depression." It is important to REJECT that comment. Dr. Schoenfeld's remarks are very unfair to CFIDS sufferers. It is clear that he is not familiar with either this disorder or the literature on it.
In 1995, at the first world meeting on CFIDS in Brussels, Belgium, there was no argument about the validity of the disorder, and evidence was presented indicating characteristic abnormalities of the immune system. Please be aware that in Europe it's called "myalgic encephalomyelitis."
Almost all CFIDS patients suffer marked impairment of cognitive function, particularly memory loss. The other debilitating complaints include headache, insomnia, chronic sore throat, tender lymph nodes, fever and muscular disorder -- fibromyalgia.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta have published a free pamphlet available to the public titled "The Facts About Chronic Fatigue Syndrome" (March 1995). There should no longer be any argument about the validity of this disorder. -- HERBERT L. HYMAN, M.D., F.A.C.P., ALLENTOWN, PA.
DEAR DR. HYMAN: Thank you for your succinct rebuttal. Since I published Dr. Schoenfeld's letter, I have been inundated with outraged letters from CFIDS sufferers and their families, who felt invalidated by the doctor's comments. Read on:
DEAR ABBY: I appreciate your response to the letter from Dr. Schoenfeld that recognized that CFIDS is very real to those who suffer with it. When I started the Yardley Area Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Support Group three years ago, I wondered if there would be any need for such a group in our small town. Today, there are nearly 100 people on our mailing list. Members' stories are varied, but their suffering is the same, and it's compounded by confusion in the medical community about the syndrome and lack of a physical marker that could be used to identify it.
If anti-depression medication were the answer to CFIDS, my daughter would have recovered five years ago. It is heartbreaking to see a high-energy 35-year-old woman lose the zest for living that had been her hallmark. I, too, might question the reality of CFIDS if I had not had to stand by helplessly and watch her change. -- SYLVIA J.BINGHAM, YARDLEY, PA.
DEAR SYLVIA: It is my sincere hope that your daughter and the many thousands of others who suffer from chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction soon find a cure. Read on:
DEAR ABBY: I suffer from CFIDS, yet I am not depressed. Why? Because the physician I went to diagnosed me right away because she had come down with CFIDS two years earlier! She did a complete medical and blood workup on me to eliminate any other possible causes for my symptoms. I, too, would have been depressed if every physician I went to told me there was nothing wrong with me and it was all in my head.
Dr. Schoenfeld should consult with Dr. Paul Cheney of Charlotte, N.C.; Dr. David Bell of Lyndonville, N.Y.; Dr. Nancy Klimas of the University of Miami, Fla.; or Dr. Anthony Komaroff of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston -- or any of the other myriad physicians who have researched and documented this debilitating disease.
Patients seeking information about chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome should be referred to: The CFIDS Association of America Inc., P.O. Box 220398, Charlotte, N.C. 28222-0398. The toll-free number is 1-800-442-3437. -- LAURA ALMAN, SUFFOLK, VA.
DEAR LAURA: You were, indeed, fortunate to have found a doctor who determined the cause of your symptoms. Many are not so lucky. Your letter may help multitudes.