OBJECTIVE--To test the hypotheses that patients exposed to viral meningitis would be at an increased risk of developing chronic fatigue syndrome and would have an excess of neurological symptoms and physical impairment. METHODS--Eighty three patients were followed up 6-24 months after viral meningitis and a postal questionnaire was used to compare outcome with 76 controls who had had non-enteroviral, non-CNS viral infections. RESULTS--For the 159 patients and controls the prevalence of chronic fatigue syndrome was 12.6%, a rate higher than previously reported from primary care attenders, suggesting that moderate to severe viral infections may play a part in the aetiology of some fatigue states. Those with a history of meningitis showed a slight, non-significant increase in prevalence of chronic fatigue syndrome (OR 1.4; 95% CI 0.5-3.6) which disappeared when logistic regression and analysis was used to correct for age, sex, and duration of follow up (OR 1.0; 95% CI 0.3-2.8). Controls showed marginally higher psychiatric morbidity measured on the general health questionnaire-12 (adjusted OR 0.6; 95% CI 0.3-1.3) Both groups had similar rates of neurological symptoms and physical impairment. The best predictor of chronic fatigue was a prolonged duration time of off work after the illness (OR 4.93, 95% CI 1.3-18.8). The best predictor of severe chronic fatigue syndrome diagnosed by Center for Disease Control criteria was past psychiatric illness (OR 7.82, 95% CI 1.8-34.3). Duration of viral illness, as defined by days in hospital, did not predict chronic fatigue syndrome. CONCLUSIONS--(1) The prevalence of chronic fatigue syndrome is higher than expected for the range of viral illnesses examined; (2) enteroviral infection is unlikely to be a specific risk factor for its development; (3) onset of chronic fatigue syndrome after a viral infection is predicted by psychiatric morbidity and prolonged convalescence, rather than by the severity of the viral illness itself.
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