CDC Website Pages on ME/CFS Now Mention Mold Connection and Chemical Sensitivities


A picture from the new CDC website section on ME/CFS.

December 10, 2018

By Lisa Petrison, Ph.D.

Subsequent to a recent update, information provided about ME/CFS on the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now includes a mention that mold may be a factor in triggering the disease as well as a statement that chemical sensitivities are often a symptom of it.

The update of the website also removes suggestions that exercise therapy may be a useful treatment for the disease and makes it clear that psychological factors are not believed to be responsible for it.

The website now stresses that the illness is a serious one that can have a major impact on sufferers’ lives and that is difficult to treat effectively.

The main Information For Healthcare Providers page states:

Myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) is a complex, chronic, debilitating disease with systemic effects. ME/CFS is characterized by reduced ability to perform pre-illness activities that lasts for more than 6 months and is accompanied by profound fatigue, which is not improved by rest. A hallmark of ME/CFS is that symptoms can worsen after physical, mental, or emotional effort, a manifestation known as post-exertional malaise (PEM). Patients with ME/CFS also have unrefreshing sleep. Other common manifestations are orthostatic intolerance, cognitive impairment, and pain. As can be observed in people with other long-term chronic illnesses, secondary psychological symptoms such as depression and anxiety may also be present in some patients with ME/CFS.


The possibility that mold may be playing a role in the disease is mentioned on the Etiology and Pathophysiology page:

While the cause or causes of ME/CFS are still unknown, evidence supports a combination of factors that are thought to contribute to the development of this illness. These may include:

Infection – some, but not all, patients develop ME/CFS following an acute viral-like illness. It is possible that in some people an infection may lead to changes in the immune system that contribute to the development of ME/CFS. Post-infectious fatigue is recognized to occur in about one in ten people infected with Epstein-Barr virus, Ross River virus, or Coxiella burnetti (the causative agent of Q fever). People with these infections who had severe symptoms during the acute illness were more likely than those with mild symptoms to later develop an ME/CFS-like illness. Other infections that have been studied in connection with ME/CFS include human herpesviruses, enterovirus, rubella, Candida albicans, bornaviruses, mycoplasma, and retroviruses. However, in ME/CFS, no causal role has been established for a specific infectious agent.

Physical or emotional trauma – some patients report experiencing an accident, trauma, immobilization, surgery, or significant emotional stress prior to onset of symptoms.

Genetics – ME/CFS has been observed within some families. This suggests either a possible genetic link or a common environmental exposure (infectious or toxic). Twin studies show higher rates of ME/CFS in identical than fraternal twins. However, specific genetic associations have not been established.

Environmental factors – exposure to mold or toxins has been suspected as a trigger for ME/CFS. However, associations of specific environmental factors with ME/CFS have not been established.


The Etiology and Pathophysiology page also states clearly that ME/CFS is a physiological rather than psychological condition:

ME/CFS is a biological illness, not a psychologic disorder. Patients with ME/CFS are neither malingering nor seeking secondary gain. These patients have multiple pathophysiological changes that affect multiple systems. It is not known whether these changes occur prior to the onset of the illness or as its consequence.


In addition, although the CDC website does not yet acknowledge Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) or Environmental Illness (EI) as being a legitimate condition, the idea that sensitivities to chemicals or other stimuli may be a problem for ME/CFS sufferers is now stated clearly on the Symptoms page for the disease.

The text reads:

Some people with ME/CFS may also have:

Tender lymph nodes in the neck or armpits

A sore throat that happens often

Digestive issues, like irritable bowel syndrome

Chills and night sweats

Allergies and sensitivities to foods, odors, chemicals, or noise


Referring to this information seems to have the potential of being helpful for many chronic illness sufferers who would like to make a credible argument to others that mold and chemical sensitivities may be related to their health issues.


Lisa Petrison is the executive director of Paradigm Change.


Links on this page are in orange (no underlining).