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Herpes Virus Expert Sheds Light on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Mysteries

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By John W. Addington • • May 2, 2003

Dharam V. Ablashi, DVM, MS, Dip.Bact., co-discoverer of unusual "juicy" white blood cells and current American Association of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome President, has done much to advance the understanding of the cause of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).

Dr. Ablashi has many more credits to his name. He is internationally renowned for his work with herpes viruses and has served on national and international scientific committees including NIH and W.H.O. He is Director of the Herpesvirus Programs at Advanced Biotechnologies Inc, and Adjunct Professor of Microbiology at the Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C. Furthermore, Dr. Ablashi has shared in the publishing of over 285 scientific papers, 11 books, and he has lectured worldwide.

However, it is Ablashi's research regarding human herpes virus 6 (HHV-6) particularly that has involved him with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

Ablashi was working with the National Cancer Institute in the mid-80's when he and his associates discovered odd balloon-shaped white blood cells which they described as “juicy.” These researchers published their findings about this new virus in 1986. Later they confirmed this was a herpes virus, and as it was the sixth such virus to be discovered it was called human herpes virus 6.

Other Herpes Viruses

Other herpes viruses are involved in cytomegalovirus, chickenpox, infectious mononucleosis, herpes simplex, and shingles. The herpes virus that causes mononucleosis, Epstein-Barr virus, also know as HHV-4, was initially suspected as a cause of CFS. Ablashi has done research on this virus also and he published in 1995 that "the involvement of Epstein-Barr virus in CFS patients is diminishing." Nevertheless, he stated that there could "be a subset of CFS patients in whom Epstein-Barr virus may be a major contributing factor to disease manifestation."


As a childhood infection, HHV-6 can cause the rash-like condition roseola. Dr. Ablashi explains that, "HHV-6 infection usually occurs in childhood during the first year of life and then the virus becomes latent." HHV-6 has two forms designated as HHV-6A and HHV-6B. It is HHV-6B that is associated with roseola and over 90% of adults retain this virus dormant in their system throughout their lives. Ablashi states that "variant A is more common in AIDS patients and patients with CFS."

As the research developed with HHV-6, many researchers, including Ablashi, performed studies to determine whether that virus might be the cause of CFS. These studies, while not always consistent, have often found a majority of CFS patients show signs of recurrent HHV-6 infections. This is not so with healthy persons.

In a study published in the Journal of Clinical Virology, Dr. Ablashi and associates looked for unique signs of HHV-6 infection in 35 CFS patients. While dormant, HHV-6 can be detected in most adults. These researchers studied immune system markers that would detect reactivation or possibly active HHV-6 infection.

Among the CFS patients, 54% showed evidence of HHV-6 reactivation whereas this was only true in 8% of the healthy individuals. Further testing over a two and a half year period revealed two subsets of CFS patients had persistent HHV-6 infection. Ablashi and his co-authors wrote that these results "show a significantly high frequency of HHV-6 reactivation in CFS patients…and a decrease in cellular immune responses."

Hormone Imbalance and HHV-6

Neuroendocrine function has often shown to be imbalanced in CFS patients. Neuroendocrine refers to the brain's control of proper hormone balance for good health. Thus the question arises as to how this relates to Ablashi's research on HHV-6.

Dr. Ablashi offered this explanation. "First, the data generated by us clearly show that HHV-6 variant A is present in the cerebral spinal fluid of most, but not all, CFS patients. The virus seems, therefore, to be carried to the central nervous system (CNS) via [white blood cells], where it has been found to be latent. When the [white blood cells] come in contact with [brain] cells/tissues, somehow the virus becomes activated, spreads to the CNS and induces CNS manifestations. …This may be a method in which HHV-6A participates in neuroendocrine dysfunction."

HHV-6 Treatment

When asked about the potential treatment of HHV-6 infection for those with CFS, Dr. Ablashi offered some insightful comments. He states, "Dr. Daniel Peterson, with whom I collaborated on a CFS project, tried ganciclovir, foscarnet and Ampligen in his CFS patients, who were identified by us and two other labs, to contain active HHV-6 infection."


"Four patients treated with ganciclovir showed the presence of HHV-6A, even after anti-viral treatment. Only one patient improved slightly for a short while."


"Two patients treated with Ampligen improved initially and did make remarkable recoveries. When treatment was discontinued after 1 1/2 years, however, HHV-6A was found to be activated from latency and these patients started to show signs of the illness."


"The patient treated with foscarnet improved greatly since he returned to work on a full time basis. We found no HHV-6A infection after foscarnet treatment. Another CFS patient treated elsewhere with foscarnet also improved greatly and returned to college. In her case, the viral DNA copies in the plasma and CNS after treatment were greatly reduced. Foscarnet, therefore, is quite effective in suppressing HHV-6A infection, but it is also associated with toxicity. Most physicians, because of this, are not willing to experiment with it."

Whey Protein Combined with Foscarnet

Patients considering foscarnet may be interested in research by Dr. Ablashi which tested the drug's effectiveness in combination with whey protein. Ablashi found that when used in combination with foscarnet, the effect is greater than each has individually.


Both through his ongoing research and his work with the American Association of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Dr. Ablashi has extended himself on behalf of those with CFS. And for that, the CFS community applauds him.

For assistance with issues related to CFS and HHV-6, Dr. Ablashi can be contacted through: The American Association of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, online at
E-mail:; Voice mail: 206-781-3544.


Ablashi, et al., Frequent HHV-6 Reactivation in Multiple Sclerosis and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Patients, J. Clinical Virology 16:179 (2000)

Ablashi, et al., Viruses and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Current Status, Journal of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, 1(2):3(1995).

Abrahams, Ablashi, et al., In Vitro Study of the Efficacy of ImmunePro RX and Foscarnet in Eliminating the Infectivity of HHV-6A (Sept. 25, 2002)

Levine, Eastman, Ablashi, Prevalence of IgM and IgG Antibody to HHV-6 and HHV-8 and Results of Plasma PCR to HHV-6 and HHV-7 in a Group of CFS Patients and Healthy Donors. Journal of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome 9(1/2):31(2000).

McLaughlin, Human Herpesvirus 6 (HHV-6) and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (March 5, 2002)

Patarca-Montero, Herpesviruses in Concise Encyclopedia of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (2000).

Regush, The Virus Within: A Coming Epidemic (2000).

CFS Radio Program, Interview with Dr. Dharem V. Ablashi (Nov. 22, 1998).

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