Hidden in Plain Sight

The Virus Within:
A Coming Epidemic

How Medical Detectives are Tracking a Terrifying Virus that Hides in Almost All of Us

By Nicholas Regush

Dutton; 260 pages (hardcover); $24.95 (purchase this book)

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Reviewed by Neenyah Ostrom

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The 13-month-old Vietnamese girlÔs life would come to a tragic end. When she first developed a fever and ear infection, it seemed no more serious than the childhood infections contracted by millions of kids every year. Because she was dehydrated and refusing food, she was admitted to the New York State hospital near her home. Instead of improving in the hospital, however, the childÔs condition steadily worsened. She developed what appeared to be an allergic reaction to the antibiotic she was given, so the drug was withdrawn. She began running a fever of 105 degrees, her heart was beating much too fast and, most distressingly, she began to show signs of internal hemorrhaging, including bloody crusts on her lips. Despite everything the doctors tried, the child died five days later. When her body was autopsied, her internal organs÷heart, lungs, liver, bladder, kidney, spleen, gastrointestinal tract, bone marrow, lymph nodes, thymus, middle ear, even her peripheral nerves and skeletal muscle÷were teeming with a viral infection. The deadly culprit was Human Herpes Virus 6 (HHV-6), the "virus within" that is the subject of Nicholas RegushÔs astonishing new book.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must note here that my reporting on HHV-6, from 1988 to 1997 in the now-defunct New York Native, and that of New York Native publisher Charles Ortleb, who began writing about HHV-6 in 1986, is acknowledged by Regush. Additionally, the work of Dr. Howard Urnovitz, founder of both Calypte Biomedical and the Chronic Illness Research Foundation and sponsor of Chronicillnet, is extensively reviewed in The Virus Within. This small list of editors and reporters being inclusive of almost everyone who has followed HHV-6 research seriously during the decade-and-a-half since the virus was discovered, I am happy to report that The Virus Within is a masterful and disturbing examination of a public health threat that has been largely ignored by both the scientific press and public health authorities. As the book jacket indicates, it is indeed a "medical thriller," a real page-turner written in RegushÔs no-holds-barred style that those familiar with his weekly "Second Opinion" column on will recognize. Regush, a medical reporter for the Montreal Gazette for 12 years, currently produces segments about medicine and science for ABCÔs World News Tonight With Peter Jennings.

HHV-6 has confounded researchers since its accidental discovery in long-frozen blood samples stored in the National Cancer Institute laboratory of Robert Gallo. First thought to target mostly the B-cells in our immune systems÷and so named Human B-Lymphotrophic Virus, HBLV÷it was soon found to infect primarily T-cells, those crucial immune cells that virtually disappear in conditions like AIDS and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Further research revealed HHV-6 to be the only virus known to be capable of infecting our natural killer (NK) cells, the body's first-line sentinels against cancer and other non-specific invaders (like parasites and other infectious agents).

As Regush reveals, HHV-6 continues to confound the scientific establishment that has, for the most part, ignored it or played down its virulence. Only a few hardy, stubborn researchers have persisted in trying to solve the seeming enigma of HHV-6 infection, and Regush brings them and their work to life in the pages of his book. The Virus Within is not only a warning about a virus that, indeed, threatens almost all of us, but is also an indictment of Big Science, where big egos, big grants, and big investments in maintaining the status quo÷and the power to do so÷can all but crush independent researchers who question the prevailing wisdom in any area of science.

The story of Konnie Knox and Daniel CarriganÔs pursuit of HHV-6 is illustrative of this type of collision between the scientific establishment and researchers whose results do not conform to the conventional wisdom. The breadth of knowledge about HHV-6 produced by Carrigan and Knox÷on a wink and a prayer, barely even a shoestring at times÷is impressive, to say the least. Without support from an academic institution, government granting agency, or even (until very recently) private funding, these two intrepid researchers have demonstrated how voracious a killer HHV-6 is. It kills not only immune system cells÷T-cells, NK cells, monocytes and macrophages÷but it is also capable of invading the nervous system and wreaking havoc in the brain and spinal cord. Knox and Carrigan have found HHV-6 in the "plaques" of demyelinated tissue observed in the brains of multiple sclerosis patients; in inflamed areas in the brains of people with encephalitis; in the bone marrow of individuals whoÔve undergone failed transplants; in many individuals with chronic fatigue syndrome; in the lymph nodes of AIDS patients; in the lungs of people with "idiopathic" pneumonia (i.e., pneumonia of unknown cause); and, sadly, theyÔve shown that HHV-6 can cause widely disseminated infections that can kill quickly, especially in the very young or already immunocompromised individuals.

As reward for their tenacity and an impressive array of publications, Knox and Carrigan both lost their jobs, were denied laboratory space, and were all but shunned by their colleagues. Stubbornness can produce its own reward, however, and Knox and Carrigan are currently continuing their HHV-6 research in their own small facility in Milwaukee.

While The Virus Within is not a book about AIDS, the evidence that HHV-6 plays a major role in the pathogenesis of AIDS is so strong that an examination of AIDS research is virtually required. Here, too, representatives of the medical and scientific establishments make sorry appearances, from Robert Gallo, in whose lab HHV-6 was discovered but who quit researching the virus while under investigation for scientific misconduct (of which he was found guilty, later exonerated by a review panel), to David Ho, whose mathematical model of how HIV alone causes AIDS has convinced thousands of physicians to give exceptionally toxic drugs to hundreds of thousands of healthy, HIV-positive patients. Regush also visits the "AIDS dissidents," from the most famous, Berkeley molecular biologist Peter Duesberg, who says that HIV cannot possibly cause AIDS, to a less well known Australian group, led by Perth Royal Hospital researcher Eleni Papadopulos-Eleopulos, who argues that HIV has actually never even been fully isolated.

In the course of attempting to pin down the HHV-6 story, Regush describes other controversial research: Dr. Thomas Glass, a pathologist and dental surgeon at the Oklahoma Health Sciences Center who helped identify victims of the Oklahoma City federal building bombing, has performed studies that appear to show that chronic fatigue syndrome÷and, therefore, its putative viral cause÷can be transmitted between humans and their pets; John Martin, whoÔs set up shop at his own Center for Complex Infectious Diseases after being told by the University of Southern California he couldnÔt pursue his research there any longer, believes heÔs found an African green monkey-derived "foamy" virus he calls a "stealth virus" because it appears to elude detection by the human immune system. And there is more.

As Regush makes clear, all the puzzles surrounding HHV-6 have not been solved. The existence of two distinct variants, HHV-6A and HHV-6B÷which are so different that some investigators suggest they are actually two different viruses÷compounds the puzzle of HHV-6Ôs seeming ubiquity. If 90% of people on the planet are infected with HHV-6, critics ask, then how can it possibly be causing or even contributing to the development of such serious conditions as AIDS, encephalitis, bone marrow transplant rejection, and multiple sclerosis? One obstacle to answering these questions remains the lack of a test that easily and consistently detects the presence of HHV-6. There is also currently no readily-accessible method of distinguishing between its two variants. It's not even known whether HHV-6 acts like a typical herpes virus, lying dormant until re-awakened by a change in its environment, or if it (or one variant of it) is actually very un-herpes-like and never latent like its herpes virus cousins. Although HHV-6 has been observed to kill cells directly in laboratory studies, does it also cause damage by rearranging genes on chromosomes , as Regush reviews the work of ChronicIllnet's Dr. Urnovitz which recently suggested that other viruses do?

While The Virus Within is an indictment of the medical/scientific establishment for its failure to deal responsibly with theories and results that donÔt square with conventional wisdom, it also supplies a whopping portion of hope that independent-minded researchers÷Knox, Carrigan, Glass, Duesberg, and others÷will overcome the obstacles placed in their paths. WeÔre not heard the last of any of the players in this drama. Neenyah Ostrom is the author of three books, including 50 Things You Should Know About the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Epidemic, and is a regular contributor to Chronicillnet.