Background: The role of viruses in the aetiology of both chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and depressive illness is uncertain.
Method: A prospective cohort study of 250 primary care patients, presenting with glandular fever or an ordinary upper respiratory tract infection (URTI).
Results: The incidence of an acute fatigue syndrome was 47% at onset, after glandular fever, compared with 20% with an ordinary URTI (relative risk 2.3, 95% CI 1.3-4.1). The acute fatigue syndrome lasted a median (interquartile range) of eight weeks (4-16) after glandular fever, but only three weeks (2-4) after an URTI. The prevalence of CFS was 9-22% six months after glandular fever, compared with 0-6% following an ordinary URTI, with relative risks of 2.7-5.1. The most conservative measure of the incidence of CFS was 9% after glandular fever, compared with no cases after an URTI. A conservative estimate is that glandular fever accounts for 3113 (95% CI 1698-4528) new cases of CFS per annum in England and Wales. New episodes of major depressive disorder were triggered by infection, especially the Epstein-Barr virus, but lasted a median of only three weeks. No psychiatric disorder was significantly more prevalent six months after onset than before.
Conclusions: Glandular fever is a significant risk factor for both acute and chronic fatigue syndromes. Transient new major depressive disorders occur close to onset, but are not related to any particular infection if they last more than a month.