#55: Virus Invades Human Genome and Causes... Chronic Fatigue?

Clever sleuthing finds a connection between a virus associated with cancer and the mysterious "yuppie flu."

By Jill Neimark|Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Chronic fatigue syndrome, which affects 17 million people worldwide, has finally been linked to a specific pathogen: XMRV (xenotropic murine leukemia-related virus). XMRV is one of only three known human retroviruses, infectious agents that slip into our genome and become a permanent part of our DNA. Cancer biologist Robert Silverman of the Cleveland Clinic isolated XMRV three years ago in men suffering from prostate cancer. The men had an immune defect that allowed the virus to proliferate, much like a defect documented in patients with chronic fatigue. Seizing upon that clue, cell biologist Judy Mikovits of the Whittemore Peterson Institute in Reno, Nevada, tested 101 chronic fatigue patients. In October she reported that 67 percent of them had the virus, as opposed to only 3.7 percent of healthy people. Tests on another 200 patients revealed that more than 95 percent of people with chronic fatigue carry antibody to the virus, Mikovits says.

For Mikovits these statistics raise new questions. Is XMRV the cause of chronic fatigue, or just an opportunistic infection? More ominously, does XMRV increase the risk of cancers, as HIV—another retrovirus—does? A blood test to detect XMRV antibodies is now available through VIP Dx Labs in collaboration with Whittemore Peterson. “This discovery could be a major step in the development of vital treatment options for millions of patients,” Mikovits says.

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