Monday, February 21, 2011

Our Schizophrenic Cousins

Pity the poor CFS sufferers and their doctors, alone in the world, toiling in obscurity, trying in vain to prove to the world that their disease is not mental but viral in origin. Or so I thought.

Three years ago, when I was still just learning about CFS as a biological illness, I read an article in a science magazine about a possible viral or bacterial cause for schizophrenia. “Of course!” I thought. So obvious! So elegant! This must be how people felt when The Origin of the Species was first published!

So I was surprised a few months ago when I saw an article in Discover Magazine about the "Schizophrenia virus controversy", What? Those stubborn psychiatrists just can't let go of their precious mental disease? Come on!

I read the first few paragraphs, but I was tired, and hadn't been able to do much reading lately. So I opened a tab for it in my browser and it sat there unread, for months. I finally just read it tonight and I am KICKING myself for it because it is the most mind blowing and informative story I've read all year.

Please read The Insanity Virus.

It turns out it's not just a virus or bacteria they're talking about. It's a retrovirus. An endogenous retrovirus. I don't know as much as I'd like to about virology, but I do know that endogenous retroviruses, ervs, are supposed to be harmless. The virus, HERV-W, is also implicated in MS and bipolar disorder.

Reading about this virus was eerily like reading about CFS, though, disappointingly, CFS and XMRV are never mentioned.

It is a very easy, very enlightening read. If you are not yet convinced of it's relevancy to your life, I have some quotes prepared that may change your mind. Basically I'm going to quote heavily from the article and comment on it.

1) The Birth Month effect leads to the suspicion of an infectious cause for Schizophrenia
Even more puzzling is the so-called birth-month effect: People born in winter or early spring are more likely than others to become schizophrenic later in life. It is a small increase, just 5 to 8 percent, but it is remarkably consistent, showing up in 250 studies. That same pattern is seen in people with bipolar disorder or multiple sclerosis.

"The birth-month effect is one of the most clearly established facts about schizophrenia," says Fuller Torrey, director of the Stanley Medical Research Institute in Chevy Chase, Maryland. "It's difficult to explain by genes, and it's certainly difficult to explain by bad mothers."

The facts of schizophrenia are so peculiar, in fact, that they have led Torrey and a growing number of other scientists to abandon the traditional explanations of the disease and embrace a startling alternative. Schizophrenia, they say, does not begin as a psychological disease. Schizophrenia begins with an infection.

(Italics mine. And by the way, I was born in February, my healthy siblings were born in August and late April.)

2) The virus
If Torrey is right, the culprit that triggers a lifetime of hallucinations—that tore apart the lives of writer Jack Kerouac, mathematician John Nash, and millions of others—is a virus that all of us carry in our bodies.

Emphasis mine, because if this is true, then it wouldn't matter if XMRV or whatever it's called is an erv.
We imagine viruses as mariners, sailing from person to person across oceans of saliva, snot, or semen—but Perron’s bug was a homebody. It lives permanently in the human body at the very deepest level: inside our DNA. After years slaving away in a biohazard lab, Perron realized that everyone already carried the virus that causes multiple sclerosis.
3) The following passages are about schizophrenia but you could easily start reading them and think they were about CFS:
Schizophrenics also showed signs of inflammation in their infection-fighting white blood cells. “If you look at the blood of people with schizophrenia,” Torrey says, “there are too many odd-looking lymphocytes, the kind that you find in mononucleosis.” And when he performed CAT scans on pairs of identical twins with and without the disease—including Steven and David Elmore—he saw that schizophrenics’ brains had less tissue and larger fluid-filled ventricles.

By the 1980s he began working with Robert Yolken, an infectious-diseases specialist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, to search for a pathogen that could account for these symptoms. The two researchers found that schizophrenics often carried antibodies for toxoplasma, a parasite spread by house cats; Epstein-Barr virus, which causes mononucleosis; and cytomegalovirus. These people had clearly been exposed to those infectious agents at some point, but Torrey and Yolken never found the pathogens themselves in the patients’ bodies. The infection always seemed to have happened years before.

Again, emphasis mine.

Here just read XMRV for HERV-W, PWCs for schizophrenics, and fatigue for psychosis:

The initial infection could then set off a lifelong pattern in which later infections reawaken HERV-W, causing more inflammation and eventually symptoms. This process explains why schizophrenics gradually lose brain tissue. It explains why the disease waxes and wanes like a chronic infection. And it could explain why some schizophrenics suffer their first psychosis after a mysterious, monolike illness.

Sound familiar?

And here is the last paragraph, which brings hope:

She is running a clinical trial to examine whether adding an anti-infective agent called artemisinin to the drugs that patients are already taking can lessen the symptoms of schizophrenia.

Even after all that, many medical experts still question how much human disease can be traced to viral invasions that took place millions of years ago. If the upcoming human trials work as well as the animal experiments, the questions may be silenced—and so may the voices of schizophrenia.

(Artesunate, a derivitive of artemisinin, is what I am taking along with wormwood per Dr. Cheney's instructions.)

So besides the eerieness, the main thing I took away from this article is that CFS does not have to shift this paradigm alone. Schizophrenia is "one of the most common mental diseases on earth, affecting about 1 percent of humanity" A lot is at stake. People are doing research on this.

*After I posted this I did a quick google for "HERV-W cfs" and the first thing to come up was this thread on Phoenix Rising.


  1. Thanks for your great summary of this article, Alison. I had heard something about this possible correlation before, but didn't know the details. Fascinating.

  2. I have been thinking, since the XMRV discovery, that a good deal of misunderstood disease might be caused by retroviruses. It's why I think researching XMRV is so important, because it could open up a world of discovery that has very far-reaching effects. Great information, and thank you for sharing.

  3. My sister has schizophrenia and I have CFS. I've always wondered if the two things were related.