Dr John Martin: Stealth viruses a public menace

CFS Radio Program
http://member.aol.com/rgm1/private/transcr.htm
April 11th, 1999
Roger G. Mazlen, M.D. Host
with
Dr. John Martin

Dr. Mazlen
We have a very important show for you today. We have a show I want you to listen to very carefully. I want you to pay attention to what our guest will be saying to you in just a little while, for you, for your people who are involved in healthcare, persons with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or undiagnosed viral diseases, health care practitioners that you may be in touch with. Listen very carefully for we have as our guest today W. John Martin from the west coast who is the founder and director of the Center for Complex Infectious Diseases which is in Rosemead, California. Dr. John Martin, who's an eminent and distinguished researcher has been on our show in the past. He was with us here in June of 1997. Welcome, John to the show again. We're just delighted that you could take time to be with us. OK. I want start off and say, what's happened since June of 1997 with the stealth virus which is your major topic of research and interest.

Dr. Martin
Basically, we've pursued now to the conclusion that Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a viral illness that damages the brain. As you may recall, the viruses that cause CFS avoid the immune system because they lack certain antigens recognized by cytotoxic lymphocytes, but they can still cause cell damage. These atypically structured viruses were called "stealth" in the sense of their being neglected by the immune system and therefore cause these persistent illnesses. So what's new to report is the real unfortunate realization now that stealth viral infections can progress to very severe illness, including death. This has come from following certain patients who have helped document this realization and now is the time to take this information to the public health officials, to the public so that we can do something about this huge epidemic. 

Dr. Mazlen
"Huge" is a good word. It's all over. I just want to mention that I have patients who had vacationed in Arizona a couple of years ago, came back with viral symptoms. I sent blood samples to Dr. Martin who was kind enough to analyze them and both of them were positive. One of them is doing fairly well. The other one is doing extremely poorly and has, at this point in time, a serious case of pancreatic cancer which we'll get back to later. Now, you're saying that CFIDS or Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome basically is a viral illness, so you suspect that a stealth virus, or types of stealth viruses are involved in most cases. Is that correct?

Dr. Martin
Absolutely. We've been able to improve the culturing of these viruses and we now have hard sequence data, the way in which these viruses have assembled themselves, the way that they've recombined with other genes, the cellular, viral, bacterial origins. In many ways, stealth viruses can be regarded as nature's biological weapons program. It really is a sinister virus in the sense that it can take varying structural forms but it has the basic capacity to imbed itself in the brain, persist in the brain causing brain dysfunction. What, again, has really brought attention to this virus has been the outbreak in the Mohave Valley, outbreaks in the east coast where multiple members in the family are all infected and typically, we're seeing now, over and over again, dementia occurring in the elderly adults in the family, depression, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in young adults and then learning and behavioral disorders in children and when we look at these families we can identify common features, particularly the ability to culture out stealth viruses from each of the family members. 

Dr. Mazlen
Now, you're culturing stuff out on patients all over the country. I know you have physicians cooperating with you in areas of the northeast like myself and others who are members of the stealth virus task force which you assembled earlier in 1998. What I would like to know is do you find that this virus is increasing in its prevalence? Do you feel it's going outside the Mohave area into other areas in some significant amount?

Dr. Martin
Oh, absolutely. In fact, there is no fundamental difference between the infections that we've seen in the Mohave Valley and the rest that we see in the east coast, particularly areas of New York. As you mentioned, we're working now with several clinicians. The good things that's come from this is indications, not yet with controlled studies which need to be confirmed, but indications that as the diseases are identified as being viral, then therapy directed at treating the virus has brought about significant improvement in the patients. 

Dr. Mazlen
Well, certainly, that's very, very important and hopeful. You've done a paper, I just want to mention one that's actually in publication which is "Modern Day Outbreak of Epidemic Neuromyesthenia Mohave Valley Arizona which you wrote with Donovan J. Anderson. Is that in press or is that coming out shortly? 

Dr. Martin
That's basically the compilation of numerous patients. A paper that's about to come out is a paper that describes an 8 year old 
child who is the son of a person in the Mohave Valley who has Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. The point of this particular child is that he did have this severe disease that slowly developed. When it first started, he was just noted at school to have a behavioral problem. He was labeled as having attention deficit, acting out, and was fully 7 months into his illness before his parents became suspicious that something organic might be occurring, then took him to a neurologist. What was so interesting is that when he did his clinical evaluation on this child, he could find no obvious abnormailites in muscle sensory functions, yet at the same time, magnetic resonance imaging on the child's brain showed severe disease. Since they did not know the cause of the disease in the child, they didn't really appreciate that the mother was sick or that there was this outbreak occurring in this area of the county, they went ahead and considered that he might have either a tumor or some degenerative process in the brain. They did a brain biopsy. The biopsy was sent around the country including the National Institutes of Health, and other major neuropathological centers. There were clear abnormalities, vacuolated cells but the conventional wisdom in pathology departments is not to appreciate viral illnesses of this type in the brain. The parents also took the child to major medical centers on the east coast and west coast and a major center this side, even though they had the first brain biopsy, needed to go back in for a second brain biopsy to see what was going on. It showed the same abnormality but it was not linked to a virus. Fortunately, I heard about this case and knowing that the mother had been infected was able to test the child. The child was strongly virally positive and I could then go back and look at the brain biopsies and demonstrate to various people, how if you look at the brain biopsy as a viral illness, it's very, very apparent. This child, fortunately, went on to an antiviral treatment and within two weeks of that had a 30% improvement. Prior to that treatment, the indications from the various specialists that he had seen was that this child would have died within two to three months. 

Dr. Mazlen
Well, congratulations on intervening and saving him. 

(Break)

As I said to our listening audience. This is an extremely important show. Listen carefully. We will be taking some phone calls but first I want to talk to Dr. Martin about how infectious is this virus and how quickly this has spread amongst families?

Dr. Martin
Very good question, and again, we now know that the virus can take various forms. It would seem in some individuals it is quite infectious as I had mentioned, we're hearing more and more of families where different members are showing the symptoms. It's hard to see how the virus would not eventually spread within the family, but in some situations it really is causing devastating consequences. This basically does raise the stakes in terms of a public health emergency as some of these viruses are clearly able to cause devastation within families. All right, we're going to take a question. We have Jeff on the line in New York. Jeff are you there? You have a question on the virus for Dr. Martin?

Jeff,
Yes, I've had this type of syndrome for quite some time and recently I've developed arthritic type condition in my fingers and my question is, what Dr. Martin might be able to tell us regarding the development of an autoimmune type arthritic condition in connection with stealth virus. 

Dr. Martin
Yes, sure, I can answer your question. Jeff, the basic issue has been that people in the past have separated autoimmune from genetic from infectious from environmental illnesses. More and more now one can see these pathologies being additive. My indications are if one has a viral illness that contributes to this illness, then one is prone to develop complications that can include autoimmune disease. So, I see the autoimmune being an added complication to having an underlying viral illness. And we've seen that in our stealth viral cultures in patients who do have autoimmune diseases affecting their joints, their thyroid, other parts. There are diseases like lupus erythematosis where again account for it as an underlying viral illness complicated by autoimmune processes. 

Jeff
That does make a lot of sense to me, thank you.

Dr. Mazlen
We'll take one more question, John and we'll go back to talking about the research. Jeeney in Staten Island. 

Jeeney
My question today is I had heard that the stealth virus was a combination of HHV6 and cytomegalovirus. Is that true?

Dr. Martin
Again, we now know a lot more about the structure of stealth viruses and in the same ways that clinicians tend to use broad terms to describe clinical entities, the names herpesvirus 6, cytomegaloviruses, oversimplify the complex genetics that are involved in the formation of stealth viruses. We know that stealth viruses can contain elements from some of these other viruses, but they're better to be seen as a unique form of virus that persists rather than as a straight forward HHV6 or cytomegalovirus. The big difference is that our immune systems can cope with cytomegalovirus, can cope with human herpesvirus 6, because they have the targets for cytotoxic T cells to suppress virally infected cells. Stealth viruses avoid the immune system, they don't have those targets, and therefore stealth viruses can cause persistent illness. 

Jeeney
Is there a treatment yet?

Dr. Martin
And the issue of treatment is... I would say there is optimism because of the courageous clinicians who've gone out there with antiviral therapies. They have provided guidelines. Those treatments now have to be subjected to well designed clinical trials so that the benefit can be fully documented. More importantly, the actual treatment protocol can be optimized so as to suppress the viral infections.

Dr. Mazlen
John, let's quickly go back to Lyme Disease. You said now, with the stealth virus in the cells it activates or makes the lyme disease organism, the borrelia more virulent, more active?

Dr. Martin
Yes, this was an absolutely fantastic observation, Roger. The clinicians from the east coast were sending samples from patients who had been diagnosed as having Lyme Disease, having years of antibiotic treatment. So, I was able to obtain the bacteria associated with Lyme Disease, called borrelia, from the National Institutes of Health and could culture it in the presence of normal cells or cells infected with stealth viruses. Straight forward under the microscope, stealth viruses cause cells to accumulate a lot of lipid type material, big vacuoles and it essentially established a feeding frenzy for these borrelia. In the normal culture one had a hard time finding any bacteria. In the stealth viral infected cultures, one could see cells bulging in many directions because the borrelia were able to feed off the lipid which they require for their cell coat. So it became a very obvious indication that if one had an underlying stealth viral infection, one might be more prone to borrelia Lyme Disease infection. And that's been borne out in the fact that patients who've been diagnosed with Lyme Disease had in fact been showing good responses to antiviral treatments. 

Dr. Mazlen
That's a very important observation because out here in the northeast, we're rapidly approaching the Lyme Disease season which obviously has begun with spring. 

(Break)

We're going to finish with some exciting information from W. John Martin, M.D., Ph.D. John, you'd mentioned to me also at another time that this virus is capable of assembling and using oncogenes from other sources. Is it capable of promoting cancer?

Dr. Martin
Yes, and again, it really adds to the need for a major public health campaign to understand these viruses. One paper about to appear this month indicates that a stealth virus can capture, in other words, incorporate into it's own genome, amplify and mutate, genes that we have associated with cancer, oncogenes. In this particular case a melanoma gene. This raises the stakes about these viruses. In the past, there was enough concern that they were causing brain damage. Now they have the capacity to induce damage in the individual cells in the form of stimulating the cells' growth and possibly leading to tumors. What I'd like to convey to your listening audience is that this is a problem. I'm very interested to hear of families where multiple members of families are infected. Unusual illnesses are being described, baffling the local medical specialists. I think as we focus on the severe illnesses, it will help expedite the development of effective therapy. 

Dr. Mazlen
Once again, I'm going to give the number of the center for people who have this type of information, 626-572-7288
to report cases or have your treating physicians report cases. John, how big a public health menace is this. What kind
of an alert should we be having at this time?

Dr. Martin
Well, I'm hoping that this radio show will kick what needs to be conveyed very rapidly now through public health offices, our local Los Angeles County public health department. You have had other guests,  Donovan Anderson in particular, with Needles, California. I think this is a major problem in terms of the number of children in special education in the schooling system and the number of adults who have had these very complex illnesses that haven't been understood in the context of viral infection. 

Dr. Mazlen
And fortunately, in some people it's treatable which is also important. Hopefully, you'll see soon be opening a laboratory at the City of Angles Hospital. We all wish you good fortune at getting that up and running. When it is up and running we're going to announce it here on the show. You'll let me know when that is the case and to what extent testing can be obtained through that laboratory and we'll be more than delighted to bring that to the attention of the public. 

Transcribed by 

Carolyn Viviani 
carolynv@inx.net  

Permission is given to repost, copy and distribute this transcript as long as my name is not removed from it. 

1999 Roger G. Mazlen, M.D.