Professor Austin Darragh spoke to Marian Finucane on the radio last Saturday. Professor Darragh, now in his eighties, is one of the most esteemed members of the medical profession in Ireland. His prolific career, spanning 6 decades, is a case study in productivity and enterprise. He has been a pioneer in both the academic world and the business world. More recently, he has devoted significant time to understanding crippling issues such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

In a wide ranging interview, he made two claims that had me scratching my head.

He is concerned about immunisation, particularly in children. He believes that a lot more work needs to be done to understand the linkage between the whooping cough vaccine and allergic syndromes such as asthma and eczema.

He believes that antibiotics are a principal cause of CFS. The thinking goes like this: our cells contain mitochondria, which are bacterial organisms. Mitochondria generate energy that feed the cells. Antibiotics kill bacteria, and therefore, while killing “bad” bacteria, they will kill mitochondria too. Therefore the cells do not get the energy they need. Therefore people feel fatigued. Therefore, CFS.

I am not an expert in medicine, and I have not done any research into these issues, but to my mind these are pretty serious statements. If they are completely factual, backed up by proper scientific research, then these are hugely important medical breakthroughs. The CFS claim is truly revolutionary, as I have not heard anything like this from mainstream scientific commentators: in fact, I have frequently heard the opposite.

If the claims are not backed up by proper evidence, then what he is saying is enormously irresponsible. Both areas: childhood immunisation and CFS, are fraught with stratospheric levels of emotion and an almost zealous disregard for the truth. The science behind the claims of the most vocal of the advocates is either non-existent or flatly contradictory. Children throughout the developed world have fallen ill and died as a result of the questioning of immunisation. Fear mongering about the use of antibiotics, on the basis that you might get CFS, could have equally serious consequences. Making public factual claims about things that are merely hypotheses, serve as a huge distraction and may divert badly needed resources and time from more promising areas of research.

On the claim that CFS is called by the death of mitochondria, then how come we all don’t have CFS after a course of antibiotics? How come chronic users of antibiotics don’t all have CFS? How come you can safely administer antibiotics to small children and the elderly? What is the research? What alternative views exist and what research has been conducted into alternative claims? None of this was explored in the interview, but it would be interesting to know more.

I encourage you to listen to the radio programme and to draw your own conclusions. The relevant part of the interview begins at the 26:16 minute mark.