LACEY, Wash.- - During our interview, Shoiban McElwee struggles to stand up from the couch.
"Recently, I've been spending between 16 to 18 hours a day sleeping," says McElwee as she walks to the kitchen and carefully pours close to a dozen prescription pills and supplements. McElwee says she has chronic fatigue syndrome.
"Comparing this level of fatigue to tired is like comparing a lit match to a nuclear explosion," she says.
McElwee says after reading about the possible connection between the XMRV retrovirus and chronic fatigue syndrome, she had her doctor send a blood sample to be tested. Two days ago, she says her results came back positive.
"It's not like having a regular virus that comes and goes. A retrovirus comes and stays," said McElwee.
According to the Whittemore Peterson Institute in Nevada, 95 percent of chronic fatigue patients in a recent study also had the XMRV retrovirus.
"Some papers have associated this with both chronic fatigue syndrome and prostate cancer," says Dr. Thomas Price, medical director of the University of Washington blood program. Price goes on to say there have also been studies to refute these findings. "Nobody knows what the right answer is. The jury is still out on this."
Blood donation agencies like Puget Sound Blood Center, however, are not taking any chances.
"We have taken the precaution of those with the diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome not to donate blood," says CEO James Aubuchon.
For McElwee, who looks forward to being able to work, drive and paint again, this discovery may be the first step in treating what, up until now, has been an untreatable disease.
"For the first time in a long time we feel like we're being taken seriously. We feel like things are moving forward, but there's still a lot of work to do," she said.
Prostate cancer patients undergoing treatment are already barred from giving blood. Retroviruses are a class of viruses passed through bodily fluids like blood, unlike cold viruses which travel through the air.