Thanks to the CFIDS & Fibromyalgia Health Resource and to their supporters and customers, a test is now available to diagnose human herpes virus 6 (HHV-6), the likely cause of symptoms in a majority of the CFIDS population. What makes this news particularly exciting is that antiviral medications are now being made available that can keep this herpes virus in check and thus keep in remission the ailment it causes.
HHV-6 Can Cause CFIDS
Although over the past ten years numerous studies have been done in the United States, Japan, and throughout Europe, showing a correlation between HHV-6 and CFIDS; only recently has it been conclusively shown that a high percentage of CFIDS patients have an active infection of this viral agent. Two reports presented at the October 1998 Cambridge Massachusetts American Association for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Conference highlighted these new findings.
A report from one of the original discovers of HHV-6, Dr. Dharam Ablashi, and associates, presented International studies supporting evidence of active HHV-6 in up to 75% of CFIDS patients as compared to virtually none in those without the ailment. The other HHV-6 presenters at the conference were Drs. Konstance Knox and Donald Carrigan. Drs. Knox and Carrigan are with HerpesVirus Diagnostics, Inc., the Wisconsin organization partially supported by the CFIDS & Fibromyalgia Health Resource catalog, and are working in conjunction with Drs. Anthony Komaroff of Harvard Medical School, Daniel Peterson, considered a founding father of CFIDS and member of the Healthwatch/Health Resource Medical Advisory Board, and Joseph Brewer, a renown infectious disease specialist. These dedicated researchers have found that while HHV-6 is active in over two thirds of CFIDS patients, it is only intermittently detectable.
HHV-6 is a cousin to HHV-5 cytomegalovirus, the virus that can cause serious infection, blindness or even death in patients whose immune systems have been compromised by cancer, HIV, and immune suppressing drugs used to treat transplant patients. HHV-6 itself, has two forms designated as HHV-6A and HHV-6B. While over 90% of adults have HHV-6B retained from an early childhood infection called roseola, it remains dormant throughout the rest of their lives. Approximately 20% of American adults harbor HHV-6A in its latent form. However, those with particular ailments, such as AIDS, Multiple Sclerosis, and CFIDS have the potentially more harmful HHV-6A present in its activated state. Dr. Knox theorized that “various factors could predispose one to active HHV-6 disease including genetic make-up, exposure to chemicals, and other environmental factors.” She further states that “what makes HHV-6A particularly insidious is that it attacks and debilitates immune cells, our defense mechanisms designed to destroy such infections.” Additional research reveals that HHV-6A can damage tissues such as bone marrow, the liver and the lungs.
Get Tested for HHV-6
A quick and accurate way to be tested for HHV-6 is via a ‘rapid blood culture’ test. This test was developed by Drs. Knox and Carrigan at HerpesVirus Diagnostics, Inc. and is only available at this laboratory. These doctors explained that other HHV-6 tests merely detect past infections and have not proven to be as accurate as the ‘rapid blood culture’ technique. Drs. Knox and Carrigan feel that since the rapid blood culture test only detects active HHV-6 infections, this test is a better indicator of the causative agent for present disease and thus present symptoms. Additionally, it is important to understand that because HHV-6 can wax and wane, an initial negative result does not rule out HHV-6 infection.
In studies done, the ‘rapid blood culture’ test indicates HHV-6 infection in roughly one third of CFIDS patients initially tested. However, if those initially found negative are tested again later, another 30-40% are found to have the activated virus. Thus to irrefutably determine whether you have an active infection, Dr. Knox recommends the test be done two to three times over a period of several months, particularly when symptoms are at their worst.
Should everyone with CFIDS be tested for HHV-6?
Although it is not yet known whether all patients with CFIDS are likely to have active HHV-6 infections, data at this time indicates that a high percentage of those with CFIDS symptoms are suffering from this virus. Because the virus frequently infects the brain and spinal cord, Dr. Knox feels it’s especially prudent for CFIDS patients with neurologic symptoms, such as cognitive problems or burning or tingling sensations, to be tested. This advice is substantiated by findings that 56% of patients with significant central nervous system symptoms tested positive on their first test. Only 37% of CFIDS patients, unselected for neurologic symptoms, tested positive on their first test.
Treatment Can Put HHV-6 in Remission
Dr. Ablashi presented information at the Massachusetts conference revealing that in their study HHV-6 specific transfer factor treatment eliminated the virus in two CFIDS patients. Past Italian and Japanese studies have likewise shown the effectiveness of transfer factor therapy in the management of this herpes virus. Healthwatch is tracking transfer factor therapy and will keep you apprised of new developments.
Other antiviral agents of possible use are foscarnet (Foscavir) and ganciclovir (Cytovene), both entailing intravenous treatment. In October of 1998, The Boston Globe reported on Dr. Joseph Brewer’s success on one 33-year-old Missouri HHV-6 patient with twice-daily intravenous infusions of ganciclovir. Dr. Brewer hopes to publish his treatment findings in the future.
As for orally administered antiviral medications, Dr. Knox explains that while acyclovir (Valtrex) may be less potent, it is capable of preventing reactivation of HHV-6 in transplant patients. Since the antiviral drug Lobucavir, still in FDA approved patient trials, seems to help against HHV-6’s cousin, cytomegalovirus, it is theorized it would work on HHV-6 as well.
Dr. Knox also conjectures that the best treatment of HHV-6 may be a combination of antiviral and beta interferon drugs such as Avonex and Betaferon, presently the most effective treatments used in MS therapy. The HerpesVirus Diagnostic Internet site further notes that ampligen has been found to inhibit HHV-6 replication in laboratory studies. This correlates with previous studies showing ampligen’s benefits in CFIDS patients.
This news of a treatable cause of CFIDS provides a ray of hope in what for many has been a long dark tunnel. Further laboratory and patient studies will shed even more light both on the role of HHV-6 in the suffering of CFIDS patients, and more importantly, on how to gain relief from the symptoms associated with this pernicious virus.