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News - 15 December 2011

One in 100 pupils' is affected by chronic fatigue syndrome.

A study following 2,855 pupils at three schools, published in the online journal BMJ Open, found 28 missed school with chronic fatigue syndrome, also known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME). The researchers said the effect was "potentially devastating".

The researchers looked at every pupil between the age of 11 and 16 at three secondary schools in Bath. The 461 pupils who were absent for at least a day a week in a six-week term was investigated further. Five had already been diagnosed with chronic fatigue and a further 23 cases were identified.

The cause of chronic fatigue syndrome is unknown. Many doctors thinking the term CFS/ME is being used for several different diseases. Children are thought to be more likely to recover than adults.

It results in extreme tiredness as well as problems with memory and concentration. The disease is thought to affect some 250,000 people in the UK. Symptoms include extreme tiredness, problems with memory and concentration, sleep disturbances and mood swings

There is currently no accepted cure and no universally effective treatment.

Dr Ester Crawley, researcher at the University of Bristol emphasised that caution is needed when drawing conclusions about all schoolchildren from a study in three schools, but Dr Crawley believes the 1% figure could be too small.

The chief executive of the Association of Young People with ME, Mary-Jane Willows, said the impact of the illness was "horrendous" and that "1% is a phenomenal number. It proves the problem we're up against."

Prof Matthew Hotopf, from the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London, said:

"There is everything to play for in terms of outcome for chronic fatigue syndrome in kids. This study demonstrates that about two-thirds had recovered by six months, and that's a really important message for families and GPs.”

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