Dr. Neil Nathan, a specialist in diagnosis and treatment of complex medical illnesses, practices with Gordan Medical Associates near Mendocino, CA. This information is excerpted with kind permission from his book On Hope and Healing for Those Who Have Fallen Through the Medical Cracks ©2010 Neil Nathan, MD, all rights reserved.
Bacteria are single-celled organisms with a nucleus and a cell membrane. They, like all cells, have to metabolize, make new structures, obtain nutrients, remove wastes, and ‘breathe’ in one form or another.
Viruses, on the other hand, are a different critter entirely. They consist of a core of genetic material, either RNA or DNA, so that the virus can replicate itself, and the viruses are wrapped in a coat of protein.
A virus doesn’t have a nucleus, really, nor does it need to ‘breathe’ or carry out other typical functions of cells. It isn’t clear if it is really alive or not, since all it does is reproduce itself, which we experience as an invasion of our body.
Once again, it is our intact immune system that allows us to recognize the foreign nature of the virus and fight it off. Usually it does so relatively easily, and the majority of viral infections, when they are eradicated, are gone. We may have even developed long-lasting immunity to that virus.
However, there is a whole family of viruses which are uniquely difficult for us to deal with.
They are the herpes viruses, and we number them from 1 to 8, each with a different name and slightly different focus of infection. This table illustrates these types and their common traits.
Herpes Virus Species Abbrev. Diseases Caused
Herpes simplex virus-1 HSV-1 Oral herpes
Herpes simplex virus-2 HSV-2 Genital herpes
Varicella-Zoster virus VZV Chicken pox, shingles
Epstein-Barr virus EBV Mononucleosis
Cytomegalovirus CMV “Mono-like” flu
Human Herpes virus-6 HHV-6 Roseola, MS, fatigue
Human herpes virus-7 HHV-7 Pityriasis rosea
Human herpes virus-8 HHV-8 Kaposi’s sarcoma
Most of us are familiar with many of these viral strains. What the members of this family have in common is the ability to hide from our immune system so that we don’t completely recognize or eradicate it.
In fact, new research shows us that these viruses actually have methods for altering the structure of their DNA to facilitate this hiding process.
What we have known for quite some time is that when the virus feels threatened by our immune system, it can move deep into our nerve cells and wait until the immune surveillance goes away.
The most obvious example of this is shingles, in which the virus goes directly into the nerve ganglions and specifically infects nerve tissue. Sometimes the virus lingers, causing a rather severe pain called postherpetic neuralgia.
Years ago, when chronic fatigue syndrome first began to appear, it was proposed that chronic Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) was a cause. An excellent paper by Dr. Jay Goldstein, who pioneered some of the early understanding and treatment of chronic fatigue, provided evidence for this connection.
Unfortunately, EBV is a common infection, and conventional medicine dismissed it as an irrelevant cause of chronic illness since ‘everyone’ had it. It was also true at that time that we physicians had little or nothing to offer in the way of treatment, so this component of chronic fatigue lay neglected.
Several recent developments have spurred our interest in chronic viral infections as a component of chronic illness.
One is new research by Dr. Jose Montoya, an infectious disease specialist from Stanford University. He administered large doses of antiviral antibiotic (Valcyte and Valtrex) to afflicted patients for six months, and these medications initially showed significant improvement in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome who tested positive to Human Herpesvirus 6 (HHV-6) and EBV.
Subscribe to the World's Most Popular ME-CFS Newsletter (it's free!)
Unfortunately these benefits did not hold, but the research gives us hope that successful treatments may be just around the corner.
While it is true that most people test positive for exposure to these viruses, those with chronic fatigue have significantly higher viral titers on blood tests, and newer methods of detection for these viruses are more accurate. Our detection methods are still nowhere near as accurate as we need them to be, but it’s a start.
More recently, a unique treatment for these viruses was developed by Dr. Joe Brewer, an infectious disease specialist in Kansas City.
Brewer created a “transfer factor” specific for each virus he wanted to treat. That is, since cows do not get these specific viral infections, he injected purified forms of several (HHV-6, CMV, EBV, and herpes viruses 1, 2, and 3) into pregnant cows’ udders, so that they made antibodies to each virus.
He purified the antibody into a form called a transfer factor [not an antibody but a “reminder”], which is now available for oral use from several different companies.
He discovered that if the patients took the transfer factor supplement for six months, some of them got well but soon relapsed. If they took it for a year, 40% were cured. After 18 months, 60% were cured. And the longer the product was used, the less the chance of relapse.
For the first time, true cures of these chronic viral illnesses were possible. Even though a complete cure takes longer, those who respond usually note marked improvement after four months.
35-year-old Kendra came to my office with a history of sporadic fatigue and cognitive difficulties, along with episodes of asthma. She had already been treated for mercury toxicity and had responded well to chelation treatments. Her DHEA level was low at 192 ng/dL (normal for her age should have been around 650 ng/dL), so I provided DHEA supplementation, and I also treated her food allergies.
These led to modest benefits, until we discovered an elevated EBV viral titer (a blood test showing antibodies to EBV virus and quantifying it), and began her on transfer factor supplementation specific for EBV virus.
When Kendra began taking the transfer factors, she became much more fatigued and had a recurrence of most of her symptoms. While this is of concern, it is not unusual and actually confirms EBV as a significant component of her illness.
If it wasn’t, she would have had no reaction to the transfer factors at all. So we decreased the starting dose, and she cut back on the frequency of taking it to every third day until she was able to tolerate the transfer factors with no side effects.
Slowly but steadily, over several months, she was able to work up to the full dose of supplement, and by the fourth month reported marked improvement in all of her symptoms. At that point she discovered that if she missed a few doses, symptoms would return, only to disappear when she took them more faithfully.
Kendra was able to discontinue the transfer factors after 18 months and her progress held steady.
[Note: This information on viral infections is part of “Chapter 12: Chronic Infections” in Dr. Nathan’s book, On Hope and Healing for Those Who Have Fallen Through the Medical Cracks. Other topics include Superbugs, Lyme disease, Biofilm, PANDAS (pediatric autoimmune and neurological diseases caused by Strep), Cell Wall Deficient Bacteria, and Mycobacteria.]
* Dr. Nathan is perhaps best known to ProHealth readers for his recent trial of “A simplified Methylation Protocol for Treatment of ME/CFS and Fibromyalgia,” conducted in collaboration with Drs. Amy Yasko, Rich Van Konynenburg, and Jacob Teitelbaum.
Disclaimer: This information has not been evaluated by the FDA. It is general information, based on the research and opinions of Dr. Nathan; is not meant to prevent, diagnose, treat or cure any condition, illness, or disease; and is not intended to be, and cannot be taken as, professional advice to any individual. It is very important that you make no change in your healthcare plan or health support regimen without researching and discussing it in collaboration with your professional healthcare team; nor should you embark on any testing or treatment without the assistance of a medical professional experienced in its application.