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Early History

Possibly the earliest "modern" mention of the illness was by Thomas Sydenham, the father of English medicine, in 1681. (Some people claim the first mention of the illness in the medical literature goes back to the time of Hammurabi in Ancient Babylon.) He called it Muscular Rheumatism. The earliest mentions of ME/CFS in the more modern medical literature were in the 19th century under the names neurasthenia, neuromyasthenia and Beard's disease. While neurasthenia was commonly considered to be a psychosomatic disorder, some descriptions of it indicate real physical symptoms and an origin after a bacterial or viral illness that strongly resembles what is now known as ME/CFS.

Early 20th Century History

This organic syndrome has also had a recent epidemiological history in other parts of the world, often in epidemic form. The first modern reported U.S. outbreak occurred in 1934 in Los Angeles County General Hospital. Another major outbreak was investigated in 1958 by Dr. Donald A. Henderson of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (who was renowned for his work in polio and won a Medal of Freedom in 2002 for his long-term work directing the World Health Organization's smallpox eradication campaign).

In between 1934 and 1958, there were at least twenty-three epidemic outbreaks of what mimicked ME/CFS during polio outbreaks. A number of researchers and clinicians in other nations had direct clinical experience with these cluster outbreaks. Some of these investigators were able to identify an illness of multiple symptom-complexes across a number of physiological systems and to define the illness as a coherent medical syndrome. These outbreaks occurred in the U.S., England, Iceland, Denmark, Germany, Australia, Greece and South Africa.