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Osler's Web: Inside the Labyrinth of the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Epidemic

Osler's Web: Inside the Labyrinth of the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Epidemic

by Hillary Johnson
Tenth year anniversary edition with an update by the author


Tenth year anniversary edition with an update by the author

Editorial Reviews

"A relentless, meticulous, and highly persuasive exposé by a journalist who spent nine years investigating the medical research establishment’s failure to take seriously chronic fatigue syndrome... In a chronology that runs from 1984 to 1994, Johnson crams in fact after telling fact, building up a dismaying picture of a rigid and haughty biomedical research establishment unwilling or unable to respond to the challenge of a multifaceted disease for which a causative agent has yet to be found... A compelling, well-documented account". --(Kirkus Reviews)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
By bringing chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) out of the shadows and squarely onto the nation's health agenda, Johnson's groundbreaking, compelling report does for it what Randy Shilts's And the Band Played On did for the AIDS epidemic. Once derisively dismissed as "yuppie flu,'' CFS was recognized as a legitimate, cohesive disease entity by the Centers for Disease Control only in 1990, six years after the first mass outbreaks. An infectious immune disorder that affects millions worldwide (the exact pathogen is unknown), CFS causes debilitating exhaustion, severe aching and headaches and fever, and in many cases affects the brain, causing memory and cognitive impairment, seizures and brain lesions. Freelance journalist Johnson (herself a CFS sufferer in the mid-1980s) interviewed hundreds of patients, scientists, doctors and government officials. Writing with quiet fury, she builds a devastating picture of the U.S. government research establishment's decade-long strategy of avoidance and denial. Her epic-length report draws chilling parallels between CFS and AIDS: desperate CFS patients organize support groups, underground clinics, activist coalitions; trials of Ampligen, a promising drug, are halted by the FDA; patients lose medical insurance simply for being diagnosed with CFS-a policy that continues to the present among major carriers. Author tour. (Mar.) FYI: The title refers to Canadian physician Sir William Osler (1849-1919), who exhorted his medical students to be on guard against lockstep thinking. See Book News (Dec. 4) for the story behind the book.
William Beatty
This oddly titled book contains a vast amount of material on a questionable disease that swept across the country during the past decade. Johnson draws on many interviews and professional meetings to document clinical and research work on chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), and she knows well the medical and popular literature on and the media's dealings with her passionately disputed topic. Incline Village, Nevada, physicians Paul Cheney and Dan Peterson first identified CFS and treated hundreds of patients. Johnson documents the sneering opposition of both the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health to recognizing CFS as a genuine disease, the hands-off attitude toward it of several leading medical journals, and the obloquy many physicians heaped on it. Neither Cheney, Peterson, nor any other clinician or researcher could ever absolutely identify the cause of the syndrome, and many in the opposition firmly believed it to be a product of psychiatric disturbances. Johnson's exhaustive volume is a benchmark in the strange history of an even stranger illness.

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DIANE Publishing Company
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