- Last Updated: 23 January 2016 23 January 2016
Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) is not an illness limited to adults. The illness also occurs in both children and adolescents. Although ME/CFS in both children and adults is the same illness syndrome, there are some variations in the symptoms and the course of illness between adults and children. Pediatric ME/CFS can range in severity from mild to moderate ("moderate symptoms at rest that become severe with effort-unable to attend school") to severe ("often housebound or bed-bound").
In a community-based study in Chicago using the 1994 Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) case definition (Jason et al., 1999; Jordan et al., 2006) children and adolescents were found to have ME/CFS at a rate of 60 cases per 100,000. A second study in 2006 (Jason) "...found the prevalence of pediatric ME/CFS among the general adolescent population to be about...1.8 out of each 1,000 American children." (CFIDS Chronicle, Summer 2007) This rate makes pediatric ME/CFS more prevalent than sickle cell anemia, pediatric heart disease, and Down's syndrome among children.
Most child and adolescent cases are endemic—that is, the illness strikes an individual and not a cluster of individuals in geographic or social proximity. However, epidemic cases do occur, notably an epidemic in Lyndonville, N.Y. from 1984-1987, in which many children in a small, upstate NY community became sick during the same time period. Sometimes, a sibling or parent would also become ill. (Much earlier episodic outbreaks before 1960 were often associated with epidemics of unusual versions of "atypical mild polio".)
Prior to 2006, especially before 2003 when the ME/CFS Canadian definition was published, children and adolescents were diagnosed in the United States by either the 1988 or the 1994 CDC adult definitions. In England, many children were, unfortunately, diagnosed according to the entirely faulty Oxford definition. In 1997, in the Netherlands, a case definition was proposed "in order to increase coherence in child ME/CFS" (DeJong et al.). The 2003 Canadian definition proposed, in a short section, that children could be diagnosed if their symptoms lasted more than 3 months—as opposed to the adult 6-month standard.