More MS news articles for January 2001

The Virus Within

Human Herpes Virus 6: A New Public Threat?

March 8 Doctors thought Fred either had Legionnaire's Disease or AIDS. Janet, a woman from Oklahoma, suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome. Yoshizo, a 3-month-old Japanese baby, was rushed to the hospital with jaundice from roseola, a common childhood condition. What do these people have in common?

In Nicholas Regush's new book, The Virus Within, he tracks a shadow virus that some medical researchers say may be connected to conditions ranging from chronic fatigue syndrome, to AIDS, to multiple sclerosis. The virus is called Human Herpes Virus 6 and apparently lives dormant within 90 percent of the population. As we age, our resistance to this virus may lessen.

Author and award-winning medical journalist Nicholas Regush joined us today in an online chat. A transcript of the chat follows.

Moderator at 2:33pm ET
Welcome to our live chat with columnist Nicholas Regush, author of the new book The Virus Within. Nicholas, thanks for being here today.

Nicholas Regush at 2:34pm ET
Hello. Glad to be here.

Moderator at 2:35pm ET
Nicholas, what hard evidence do you have that chronic fatigue syndrome, AIDS and/or multiple sclerosis are associated with Human Herpes Virus 6 (HHV-6)?

Nicholas Regush at 2:36pm ET
Evidence from the lab of Don Carrigan and Konnie Knox and their published research shows that HHV-6 is active in these illnesses. This virus has the powerful potential to damage cells.

Moderator at 2:36pm ET
Deane asks: Do you think HHV-6 is a major public health threat? Do you think there may be other strains of HHV-6 other than A and B?

Nicholas Regush at 2:38pm ET
Yes, I believe HHV-6 may well be a major public health threat. I have never come across a virus that has such a profound ability to damage key immune system cells. Many other strains of this virus may turn up, but a huge amount of well-funded research will be necessary before a clear picture of just how much of a threat this virus will become, and how soon.

Ray Jones from at 2:38pm ET
If the virus is dormant in (up to) 90% of us, where did it come from?

Nicholas Regush at 2:39pm ET
One form of HHV-6 that we know of, namely variant-B, likely comes to us by way of an infection from the mother early in life and then in some cases can cause illness in children some as severe as thrashing the entire body. In most cases, it seems to become part of the viral baggage that we carry until immunity drops and it becomes reactivated.

Lionel from at 2:40pm ET Is HHV-6 contagious? If so, how is it spread?

Nicholas Regush at 2:41pm ET
It's likely that one or more forms of HHV-6 could spread periodically from person to person because when this virus awakens it can begin shedding and can be potentially transmitted via saliva. But we don't have good knowledge of transmission, namely again because federal funding is so ridiculously low for HHV-6 research.

Robert at 2:41pm ET
How do I know if I am infected with the active virus?

Nicholas Regush at 2:42pm ET
There is no standard test for HHV-6, partly due to lack of government funding interest in this entire area. Researchers like Konnie Knox and Don Carrigan of Milwaukee have developed a research-based test that can determine if there is active HHV-6 in the body. This test is being used in studies of multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue and AIDS.

Levi at 2:42pm ET
Is there a way for physicians to monitor the progress of the virus?

Nicholas Regush at 2:44pm ET
Again, Carrigan and Knox are working with physicians who are closely monitoring the relationship between treatment (say, in multiple sclerosis) with symptoms. Preliminary data show that there is a good correspondence between symptoms in MS when the virus is active. Similar research is being monitored with chronic fatigue patients.

Moderator at 2:44pm ET
Kim Hilt asks: Why does resistance to this virus lessen with age?

Nicholas Regush at 2:45pm ET
This issue is not entirely clear but antibody studies suggest that the immune system might lessen its hold on HHV-6 as we age; this might be due, in part, to the development of diseases that affect the body's immunity.

Moderator at 2:45pm ET
Jim asks: Are there any treatments effective against HHV-6 ?

Nicholas Regush at 2:47pm ET
The main area of research now going on involves Knox and Carrigan and Dr. Jim Brewer in Kansas City; they are looking at the effectiveness of anti-herpes virus medication in patients with multiple sclerosis. Early signs are encouraging but a lot more work needs to be done. Also, there are lab studies that show anti-herpes medications might have a neutralizing effect on the virus. But clinical studies must be done before anyone reaches a conclusion about this.

Mike at 2:47pm ET
What are the implications for those who already have another strain of herpes?

Nicholas Regush at 2:48pm ET
Good question. But here again, due to lack of funding in this area, there is not much to go on. It is apparent that herpes viruses can interact with one another, one reactivating another. But don't jump to conclusions here either because there is a lot going on in the body's internal environment that requires careful study before we understand how any combination of viruses may attack key cells.

Mary E. from at 2:49pm ET
Mr. Regush, has there been a response from the medical/medical research community to your book?

Nicholas Regush at 2:50pm ET
Typically, anything that is new gets shunned. This book is already having an impact on the general public and it will force the medical community particularly those in charge of government funding to take notice. I also expect some congressional activity in this area sometime this year. Medicine crawls like a bug.

Moderator at 2:50pm ET
Jean B. asks: Why is funding for HHV-6 research such a low priority?

Nicholas Regush at 2:52pm ET
Back in 1986, Robert Gallo co-discoverer, sort of, of HIV declared that he had discovered HHV-6. He touted it to the medical community as an important virus that could likely play a role in AIDS. No one wanted to hear about this, because so much money was headed to HIV. To this day, HHV-6 has been shunned because many scientists just don't bother to read the medical literature.

Konnie Knox and Don Carrigan have published their work in numerous major journals including the New England Journal of Medicine. It's time that sleepy AIDS researchers got a kick in the you know what and started to do some homework. Ditto for MS researchers.

AdrienneGomez from at 2:52pm ET
What was the first indication that this virus might be implicated in so many dieases?

Nicholas Regush at 2:54pm ET
The first red flag came from Bob Gallo at the National Cancer Institute. He said it killed cells in the lab more efficiently than HIV. Next, Carrigan and Knox showed how powerfully HHV-6 could reactivate in bone marrow transplant patients. They have continued to show this in patients with marrow problems, CFS, AIDS, and likely will show active V-6 in other diseases they are examining.

DrChet from at 2:54pm ET
Isn't it a bit premature, and irresponsible, to blame this single virus for all these ailments? These patients may well be suffering from other immune problems that allow virus levels to increase, in an innocent bystander fashion, while not being related to there primary disease (except for roseola, of course).

Nicholas Regush at 2:56pm ET
Remember the phrase - read my lips. Then read carefully. I never said this virus is responsible for all these diseases. That's certainly not what the literature says and not what my book says.

My book documents the painstaking and extremely well-published research that indicates HHV-6 shows signs of being INVOLVED in certain diseases. I wish that the medical community or some people in it would stop making dumb generalizations about statements that innovative thinkers make on key issues.

Ray Jones from at 2:56pm ET
If HHV-6 is part of the 'viral baggage that we carry,' does this imply that viruses are never killed, just kept under control by our immune system?

Nicholas Regush at 2:57pm ET
We've evolved with microbes. We even carry remnants of ancient infections in our genetic structure. The herpes viruses, including HHV-6, are a good example of viruses that learn to live reasonably well within the body. However, under certain conditions not well-defined as yet they can reactivate and cause harm.

paulywog at 2:57pm ET
How can a person bolster their immune system as they age? It seems like that would be the best treatment at this point until more is known about HHV-6.

Nicholas Regush at 2:58pm ET
I won't answer this specifically because I am not a physician. But common sense dictates that there is only so much we can control in our daily lives we can eat well, exercise and all that but we can't control toxicity in the environment and we cannot control the flow of microbes.

Steve from at 3:00pm ET
Is any connection seen between HHV-6 and IBD (Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis)?

Nicholas Regush at 3:01pm ET
There is some scientific interest again mainly Knox and Carrigan in Milwaukee in the notion that HHV-6 may be involved in some way in gastrointestinal disorder. This virus is certainly by all accounts a potential candidate for this. But again, we NEED RESEARCH TO PRESS THESE ISSUES ON. THERE IS NO FUNDING!

Peter at 3:01pm ET
Has there been any research done to determine whether this is truly a new viral threat, or whether it's possible that most humans have always carried HHV-6?

Nicholas Regush at 3:02pm ET
HHV-6 appears to be a very old virus, perhaps the oldest of all the herpes viruses. It's very likely that it has been involved in the past with illness as it appears to be now. We don't usually get a grip on things like this until science takes a close look.

Julie from at 3:03pm ET
Are you familiar with the transfer factor that many CFS patients are currently being treated with? They are obtained from the first colostrum of cows injected with the dead HHV-6 virus.

Nicholas Regush at 3:05pm ET
I'm aware of the research and, frankly, anything in this area that focuses on gleaning more knowledge is terrific. HOWEVER, I want to emphasize that as a medical journalist I usually want to see good scientific data in preferably well-controlled conditions, before I begin to take the research seriously.

I suppose people will try all kinds of things, some of which may lead to good breaks for others. The important thing in HHV-6 research is to get funding for large clinical trials because there are a number of drugs out there and procedures that are being touted as important for CFS, MS and even AIDS.

Philip at 3:05pm ET
What is the potential profit for the pharmaceutical companies if they discover a cure vs. treatment?

Nicholas Regush at 3:06pm ET
When you add up the possible clientele for drug company clinical trials involving treatments for HHV-6, we're talking about a huge investment in time and money, with the usual rewards if things should pan out.
My main concern is that little is being done now. And with this concern is my fear that inappropriate and desperate science will replace the excellence of Knox and Carrigan.

Moderator at 3:09pm ET
Becky asks: What other diseases has the virus been implicated in?

Nicholas Regush at 3:10pm ET
One area my book explores is the potential of a virus such as HHV-6 to affect our genetics. A couple of chapters deal with the excellent work of Dr.Howard Urnovitz, in California, who is, I believe, charting a path of better understanding how viruses can affect our genes, reshuffle them, and observe how this process could lead to or contribute to chronic illness many forms of it.

Bob from at 3:10pm ET
What can those of us out here do to press the issue of funding responsible research on HHV-6? The CDC seems determined NOT to do this. What are the other options?

Nicholas Regush at 3:12pm ET
What is badly needed are privately-sponsored conferences on HHV-6, since the government is lacking in its responsibility to organize such things. Also, it's important to press congressional commitees and frankly, maybe people should write to Dr. Anthony Fauci at the NIH and ask him why he has been so irresponsibly neglectful of weighing in on this issue. I plan to take this one up myself shortly, as a journalistic question. WHY NO FUNDING?

Moderator at 3:12pm ET
Nicholas, thanks for joining us today. Any final thoughts for our audience?

Nicholas Regush at 3:19pm ET
Final thought: I wrote The Virus Within in the hope that many people could learn about a new breed of scientist tracking a powerful virus, namely Konnie Knox and Don Carrigan of Milwaukee. Also, Howard Urnovitz. Their time will come and it will help change the face of our understanding of chronic illnesses.
Goodbye and thank-you.

Moderator at 3:20pm ET
Nicholas Regush is the author of the new book, The Virus Within.

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