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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 November 2005, 12:50 GMT
Electricity 'no link to illness'
Computer keyboard
Computers are one of the appliances which can affect sufferers
There is no scientific proof exposure to electrical equipment causes ill health, say scientists.

Researchers from the Health Protection Agency (HPA) looked at research into electrical sensitivity and reports from patients.

The HPA said people could have real and unpleasant symptoms.

But they said there was insufficient evidence of a direct link between electrical exposure and these symptoms, which can often be disabling.

There is little to suggest that it is electrical fields that are causing this ill health
Dr James Rubin, Mobile Phone Research Unit, King's College London School of Medicine,

Electrical sensitivity is a condition which some people attribute to exposure to electromagnetic fields associated with the electricity supply.

It is unclear how many people suffer from the condition, with estimates ranging from a few per thousand people to a few per million.

Tingling skin

For the review, experts from the HPA's Radiation Protection Division looked at scientific studies into electrical sensitivity, as well as other sources of information, such as internet websites maintained by sufferers and self-help groups.

But the researchers did not look at the effects of radiowaves from mobile phones, as most of the studies which look at electrical sensitivity were carried out before they were widely introduced.

From the research they evaluated, the HPA found there were two main groups of symptoms attributed to electrical sensitivity, or electrical hypersensitivity.

People can experience skin symptoms, such as face tingling or redness, often associated with using older types of visual display unit.

Others can experience a broader range of symptoms, such as fatigue and headaches, which vary from person to person.

Most people are only mildly affected, but in around 10%, they are severe enough to be disabling and hinder normal life.

The symptoms reported were similar to those found that people who attribute illness to chemical and other environmental exposures.

Evidence reviewed

However, scientific studies have not found a proven link between exposure to electrical appliances, or power supplies, and symptoms.

In addition, no diagnostic marker - which would identify electrical sensitivity as a defined condition - has been found.

Jill Meara, deputy director of the HPA's Radiation Protection Division, said it had proved difficult to recreate the effects reported by patients in the lab.

She added: "If we go down the route of trying to look at the causes, we are just going to reach an impasse, with one side saying one thing and the other the opposite.

"What we should be doing is looking at treatments, either treating individual symptoms such as headaches, or using things such as cognitive behavioural therapy."

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "We are not doing is disputing the fact some individuals are experiencing very real symptoms.

"However, what we cannot say is that these are a result of exposure to electromagnetic fields - as today's report, and other scientific evidence, demonstrates."

Dr James Rubin, Mobile Phone Research Unit, King's College London School of Medicine, said: "There is no doubt that people who say they have electrosensitivity experience unpleasant symptoms, which can sometimes be quite severe.

"However, there have now been over 30 studies done in this area, and at the moment there is little to suggest that it is electrical fields that are causing this ill health."

But Mike O'Carroll, of the anti-powerline group Revolt, said: "When they say there is no evidence yet of causality, what they should be saying is that the evidence so far doesn't give adequate support to the theory."

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