CFS and immune disorders (was: women behaving badly)

Steve Perry sperry at
Mon Dec 14 18:24:58 PST 1998

As a male who had an 18-month bout with CFS several years ago, I can tell you that it seemed pretty real to me: the muscle aches, the mild sore throat, the faint nausea, the overweening fatigue, the difficulties in concentration--the symptoms include a pretty broad range of things, it's true, but they ain't *that* vague. I'd refer you to Hillary Johnson's book, Osler's Web, for a more in-depth account. Myself, I've long harbored suspicions along these lines: While it isn't clear what causes CFS, it's pretty generally accepted among researchers that it involves an immune system malfunction. Immune function isn't *suppressed*, as in AIDS, but rather the opposite: The immune system seems to be firing away like an out-of-control video game at some agent that's as yet undetected--or perhaps it's triggered to fire away at nothing at all. At one point there were some who thought it was linked to AIDS, but that's been dismissed. (Speaking for myself, I've had negative HIV tests both before and after my bout with CFS.)

Which is not to say that there's no linkage of *any* kind, necessarily. Here's my pet theory, and maybe someone on the list will have enough scientific background to comment or correct me. It's striking that, in the past generation or so, there have arisen a number of AIDS-like disorders across mammalian species ranging from pigs to apes to cats to dolphins. To my knowledge no one has suggested a common viral agent to account for this; I've wondered whether the common factor(s) aren't *environmental* rather than *viral.* That is: What if there is some environmental co-factor that has facilitated the rise of HIV and kindred immune disorders? Well, we do know that one consequence of ozone depletion is that all of us mammals are exposed to a greater spectrum of UV rays, which happen to suppress/disrupt immune function. Could this be a factor in the rise of AIDS etc? An explanation along these lines, incidentally, might also help to make sense of some of the odd disclosures about HIV down through the years--specifically I'm thinking of stories I've read through the years about HIV being found in preserved tissue samples from a British sailor who died in 1959, and from a St. Louis teenager who died in the 1960s. In other words, it may be that HIV has been with us longer than we realize, and that what's changed in the past generation is not a matter of the virus's introduction to human populations, but of environmental factors that facilitated its spread.

A few ancillary details: I'm told--can't vouch for these claims with my own research--that a) there has also been a rising incidence of less grave immune-related disorders like alopetia, which causes one's hair to fall out; and b) that two of the fastest-growing cancers (if not *the* fastest) among younger adults are breast cancer and testicular cancer--and breast and testicular tissue are the most radiation-sensitive in female and male bodies, as I understand it. Which *may*, again, be partly a consequence of the greater radiation spectrum to which we're exposed as a result of ozone depletion.

I cheerfully admit that my own science background is spotty, but I'd be interested to see more knowledgeable parties comment.

---------- From: Frances Bolton (PHI) Sent: Monday, December 14, 1998 5:38 PM To: lbo-talk at Subject: RE: Women behaving badly

On Mon, 14 Dec 1998, Marta Russell wrote:
> Showalter seems to be doing the same to women. I have not read her, only the
> posts here. Has she attacked fibro? Given her attitude and know it all
> attitude, I can't understand why she hasn't. Now here's a cure for
> ignorance. If Showalter and few more laypersons who speak about what they
> don't know could develope one of these illnesses, that would cure you too.

No, she doesn't attack, or mention, fibro. If you haven't read her, how do you know she has a "know-it-all attitude" or that she "attacks" anything? I haven't read the entire book, just the part of CFS thus far. First, I don't think she's attacking CFS, she's asking if the medical model is the proper one for researching it. I think that is a different question. She notes some interesting statistics. Three out of four people with CFS are women, over 90% are white, and most reported having "frantic lives with multiple responsibilities." Yet feminists insist that there must be a viral or neurological cause, rather than a psychosocial cause, even though there arent a coherent group of symptoms--diff. people report different things. Apparently alot of the work that has been published which suggests that there is a pscychological aspect to CFS has been met with anger. I wonder what's at stake here.

Now, I want to mention another condition which is also mostly female, mostly white, mostly affluent, mostly from the US, just like CFS. Of course I m thinking of anorexia. I haven't seen any feminist analysis of anorexia which doesn't consider its cultural foundation, and research which doesn't take culture into account is seen as anti-femininist. I I wonder why its ok to see girls and young women as affected by culture, but adult women must have a viral or neurological source for their own ilnesses.

> And then I must add, that the reason that many "professionals" resist adding
> these conditions to the laundry list of known illnesses is that they are long
> term illnesses, require long term care and the insurance industry and
> government would rather not have to foot the bills to treat people who have
> them. If they are "illegitimate" conditions then insurance and Medicare and
> Medicaid don't have to do right by people who have them.

I agree with you that it is in the medical establishments interest to deny illnesses exist, I'm just not convinced that there isn't a cultural aspect to CFS.


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