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Herpesvirus: the great masquerader.

Further study of the centuries-old viral enemy of mankind may bring to light new disease connections and provide more effective treatments.

Herpesviruses have plagued man and beast for millenia. As new herpesviruses are identified, the challenge remains: how to treat the resulting diseases effectively and prevent them from inflicting harm. To date, seven herpesviruses have been isolated in humans, five in horses, at least four in cattle, two in pigs, and three in chickens. No animal escapes herpesviral infection: the virus has been detected in animals as exotic as the Indian cobra and as mundane as the American ground squirrel. All animals may possibly carry at least one herpesvirus during their lifetime.

Herpesvirus--Viral Houdini?

Herpesviruses are greater escape artists than Houdini himself. What makes these viruses so wily and infamous is that they share several common properties: the microorganisms contain DNA as their genetic material; they have a similar architectural structure; and the viruses can maintain themselves in a dormant state for the life span of the host. The ability to remain fast asleep in the body's cells is what makes the herpesviruses particularly and potentially dangerous for man. Once an initial viral infection is resolved, the herpesvirus evades the body's natural immunosurveillance mechanisms, lying inactive in specific cells of the body for days, months, and years at a time, ready to attack again when conditions are favorable. The long-term health consequences of recurrent herpes infections are in many instances unknown, posing the principal dilemma for medical and scientific communities.

Currently, seven known herpesviruses infect man: herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2), varicella zoster virus, Epstein-Barr virus, human cytomegalovirus, human herpesvirus type 6, and human herpesvirus type 7. The first human herpesviruses discovered were the herpes simplex viruses (HSVs). HSV-2 is the culprit behind oral (blisters) and skin lesions, while HSV-2 is responsible for genital herpes. In children, gingivostomatitis, inflammation of the gums and mouth, is the most common herpes simplex infection. Currently, the most lethal form of herpes simplex infection is encephalitis, which predominantly afflicts children. Research suggests that Bell's palsy or facial paralysis may result from either HSV or varicella zoster virus. Human herpesvirus type 6 and human herpesvirus type 7 have been identified in this past decade. Diseases linked so far to human herpesvirus type 6 are roseola (in infants and young children) and chronic fatigue syndrome. Human herpesvirus type 7 remains elusive and is presently not linked to any disease state.

Though the proper name sounds mysterious, varicella zoster virus (VZV) is well known as the chickenpox virus. VZV, typically acquired during childhood, can hide in the cells of the sensory nervous system only to return later in life, resulting in an attack of shingles.

The Epstein-Barr virus (EB), which brings about infectious mononucleosis, takes up residence in the B-lymphocyte cells of the immune system. EB was first identified in Burkitt's lymphoma, a rare type of white blood cell cancer named after Dr. Denis Burkitt, who discovered the cancer in children in Africa. Today, scientists point to Epstein-Barr as a possible culprit of chronically active-state diseases, such as neuromyasthenia (muscular weakness), polymyalgia rheumatica (pain and stiffness in muscles), and chronic fatigue syndrome. EB has been linked to various forms of cancer, such as nasopharyngeal cancer, lymphomas, and smooth-muscle cell tumors in immunocompromised individuals, as well as Hodgkin's disease, a cancer of the lymphatic system. Autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus erythematosus, may be activated by a herpesvirus--Epstein-Barr appears to be a prime suspect.

Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) is typically acquired during childhood or via blood transfusion. Cytomegalovirus infection during pregnancy poses grave threats for the unborn child, because the virus affects multiple organ systems. Because the infant's central nervous system can be primarily affected, the outlook for normal development is bleak. After initial infection, cytomegalovirus remains dormant in the macrophage and lymphocyte cells, the principle warriors of the immune system, but can reactivate when the system is compromised. HCMV infection in adults expresses itself as either mononucleosis or hepatitis. Cytomegalovirus has been detected in prostate, colon, and cervical cancer, as well as Kaposi's sarcoma and in atherosclerotic plaques. Identification of cytomegalovirus as a carcinogen, cocarcinogen, or simply a passenger in these disease states is still under investigation.

Where we stand in the battle against the herpesviruses

Ask anyone who has struggled with cold sores and they will attest that even a HSV-1 infection can be dreadful. Dr. Cory SerVaas, editor of the Post, had the good fortune to know Dr. Richard Griffith, who dedicated years of his life to bringing the help of lysine and a low-arginine diet for cold sore sufferers to the attention of mainstream medicine.

The annals of medicine are filled with examples of giants in the field of medical research whose most promising work dies with them. Often a dedicated man with a new theory spends his career pursuing a vision which is not yet shared by his colleagues.

Dr. Griffith knew that the pain and suffering for many might end if only the FDA would permit claims for lysine's efficacy in treating the virus. Then physicians would begin prescribing or recommending it for that particular problem.

Dr. Griffith truly cared about people, about medicine, and about basic science, but most important he had the courage to stand up for his personal clinical observations, even though he knew there would be no research and development money for an inexpensive amino acid like lysine. It wasn't a drug that could be patented. It wasn't even a drug. But he never gave up trying to convince the FDA. He kept sending them valid scientific documentation, but when he died in October 1994, he still had not succeeded in gaining FDA approval. His motives were humanitarian, not monetary. Lysine is not a product with markup potential that would produce profits for a pharmaceutical company, and that in itself was part of Dr. Griffith's problem.

Fortunately, Dr. Griffith had a much younger colleague, Dr. Christopher Kagan, to whom he had given much encouragement and inspiration. In fact, it was Dr. Kagan who had brought earlier scientific research on lysine to Dr. Griffith's attention at the Eli Lilly Company. It was the neglected but thorough laboratory work of Dr. Robert Tankersley that had aroused Dr. Kagan's curiosity. He tried lysine on cold sore patients and found that it worked.

Since working with Dr. Richard Griffith in the early 1970s, Dr. Kagan has maintained an extensive file of lysine and herpesvirus-related information. Here are some of his recollected observations.

"About ten years ago, my father, a pediatrician, talked to a pediatrician friend about our lysine work," he told us. "The pediatrician decided to give lysine intravenously to one of his patients who was suffering from herpes encephalitis. The patient was near death, yet the doctor wanted to try everything possible. He gave approximately 15 grams intravenously a day, and the patient woke up out of his coma within 24-48 hours. He repeated this with seven more patients and achieved the same results.

"There are a number of dramatic stories," Dr. Kagan continues. "There was a patient with severe genital herpes who was so desperate that he
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Author:Ferroli, Christina
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Nov 1, 1995
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