"There are no such things as incurables; there are only things for which man has not found a cure."
In August of 2007 I began a column with that quote from Bernard Baruch. It seems Baruch’s statement and my words contained a prophecy.
I described how my son, Alan, became so ill he had to quit work. His health deteriorated to the extent he could walk only steps without a walker. He spent much time in a wheel chair; his voice faded to a whisper. He found it difficult to concentrate. His family doctor sent him to various specialists who seemed baffled. Because he could last only moments on a treadmill, they assumed he had heart problems, but could not agree on a cause. Indeed some of the probable diagnoses suggested imminent death. It looked like his career had ended in his mid 40s.
For nine months he lived on the brittle edge with no sense of what ailed him. Then an internist examined him and diagnosed chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), a condition triggered by a viral infection. A few months later, Alan read a posting on the CFS website indicating that a preliminary study suggested hope for some sufferers through a new drug therapy being tested by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine. He began the treatment with an anti-virus drug called Valtrex. Within seven weeks his health began improving.
Earlier this year, in another column, I reported Alan’s almost miraculous improvement. He returned to work. Today he works full time, although with occasional relapses. I ended that column with the words: In this age of distrust and skepticism, miracles still happen. I had no idea that I had witnessed what might have been the birth pangs of a true miracle.
Alan called me a few days ago concerning the discovery of a previously unknown retrovirus called XMRV. It seems that 95 per cent of people who report symptoms usually diagnosed as CFS or fibro-myalgia have this virus. Doctors won’t say that the virus causes those illnesses, but that it has a close relationship. They now know that CFS has a biological basis; previously, many in the medical community believed it had a psychological or neurological cause. Some simply said, "It’s all in your head."
Just to add more excitement to this medical breakthrough, scientists have also found a relationship between the XMRV virus and autism, and some forms of prostate cancer. A retrovirus differs from other viruses in the way it reproduces. It becomes part of the host cell’s DNA and stays forever unless you have an anti-retroviral treatment: a treatment not yet available. Researchers have learned much about retroviruses in recent years because of research into another retrovirus – the HIV that causes AIDS.
What happens next? Scientists must first prove or disprove a causal relationship between XMRV and the illnesses then look for an anti-viral treatment. We haven’t got there yet, but people suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome and related illnesses now have much more than a glimmer of hope.
If you need to know more, put XMRV into Google. It will take you to numerous websites dealing with XMRV and CSF.