More than a million people in the United States suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome, and about half of them are either unemployed or underemployed. Even when Illinois CFS sufferers are able to find jobs, their condition often prevents them from working for long periods of time. CFS, which used to be called myalgic encephalomyelitis, is a debilitating disease with no known cure. Its sufferers are constantly tired, have trouble sleeping and find it difficult to focus and concentrate. Doctors have yet to identify the cause or causes of CFS, but environmental stressors are thought to be one of the factors that triggers the condition.
A possible bacterial link
Doctors originally thought that CFS was a viral condition, but that hypothesis has been thoroughly tested and rejected. Recent studies conducted at Columbia University and the Jackson Laboratory suggest that CFS may be caused by disruptions to the gut microbiota. Researchers discovered that CFS sufferers had reduced microbial diversity and higher levels of bacteria linked with inflammation, and they think these bacterial discrepancies could one day be used as biomarkers to diagnose CFS.
CFS and workers’ compensation
Workers’ compensation programs provide benefits to people who are unable to perform their jobs because of illness or injury. However, workers only receive these benefits when their illnesses or injuries are job-related. Doctors cannot yet say with certainty what causes CFS, so proving by a preponderance of the evidence that a case is work-related would be difficult. A CFS sufferer may have a better chance of receiving workers’ compensation benefits if their condition worsened after being exposed to elevated stress or toxic substances in the workplace. In this situation, the link between the disease and the job would be clearer.
Research into the causes of CFS is ongoing, and scientists may soon be able to pin down the causes of the bacterial anomalies that appear to trigger the disease. If they do, establishing a link between CFS and workplace environments may become less challenging. However, employers and their insurance providers will likely question this science because paying benefits to workers with a condition that causes long absences and does not have a cure would be expensive.