'Yuppie flu' is a serious disease, says study

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The debiliating disease ME, dismissed as "yuppie flu" when it emerged in the 1980s, is a serious chronic condition that must be taken out of the medical wilderness, a government report said yesterday.

The debiliating disease ME, dismissed as "yuppie flu" when it emerged in the 1980s, is a serious chronic condition that must be taken out of the medical wilderness, a government report said yesterday.

The independent report, based on two years' study of ME, or myalgic encephalomyelitis, called for urgent improvements in treatment and for an end to the medical "disbelief" which often met sufferers when they reported their symptoms.

Described as a "major breakthrough" by ME support groups, the report calls for medical schools to add the disease to their classes and for health authorities to set up structures to treat sufferers.

The study found the disease affected about four people in every 1,000, mostly adults between 20 and 40, and children between 13 and 15. More women than men were affected, but ME cut across all social classes, proving the inaccuracy of the "yuppie flu" tag. "This has been a disease in the wilderness. Until now sufferers were ignored, not taken seriously, labelled as hypochondriacs, urged to pull themselves together and get better on their own," said the Government's chief medical officer, Liam Donaldson. "From today that changes. We are in no doubt this is a real condition affecting real people."

The report to Sir Liam by the working group on ME, also known as chronic fatigue syndrome, said public scepticism had been reinforced by "disbelief and controversy" about the condition among doctors.

Allen Hutchinson, chairman of the group and Professor of Public Health at Sheffield University, said ME should be ranked alongside other chronic diseases that were taken far more seriously. More than 200,000 people are thought to have ME in Britain at any one time. Sufferers have included the athlete Kelly Holmes.

Yesterday, Colin Barton, 51, who was diagnosed in 1987, four years after he first complained about feeling constantly exhausted, said he still felt there was a "burden of proof" hanging over his condition. "The uncertainty does not make you feel 100 per cent confident when you go to the doctor's. I hope this report means that this uncertainty won't be plaguing people in the future," he said.

The Action for ME charity said the report was a milestone . Its chief executive, Chris Clark, said: "The failure to take ME seriously has blighted the lives of thousands of desperately ill people."

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