As a child, were you covered in pink calamine lotion after proclaiming “it itches?” Did your mom soak you in a bath with oatmeal to soften and dissolve those scabs that came after a bout of chickenpox? Mine did.
Professor Ronald Goldsteinm, a member of the BIU’s Mina and Everand Goodman Faculty of Life Sciences calls this a ‘souvenir’ from childhood. What does this mean for you as an adult? Goldstein states that in one-third of people over 50, or in those with weakened immune systems (our clients), chickenpox reactivates in the form of shingles. That is a lot of people!
In one-third of those cases, shingle symptoms are far more serious than the itching you experienced as a child. The pain can be debilitating and last for months or years. Should you or should you not get the anti-shingle vaccine? That is a hot topic for many! He explains that it provides effective protection in only 50% of cases and can not be given to immune- compromised patients.
Chickenpox/shingles is only 1 of the 8 different Herpes viruses that affect humans.
Understanding Herpes 1 through 8
Herpes 1 is generally transmitted orally or to the genitals through oral transmission. Think cold sores in the corner or inside of your mouth.
Herpes 2 causes genital infection and is usually passed through sexual transmission and can not live very long outside of the body. There’s not much to think about except ‘no thank you’.
Herpes 3 is our itchy enemy which causes chickenpox or shingles. Like its friend, HHV1, herpes zoster likes to infect skin cells and nerve cells and often forms in a band or belt-like pattern. Most everyone knows someone who has had chicken pox or shingles.
Herpes 4 is also called Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) also known as the kissing disease, mononucleosis. A very popular virus that has made it through the majority of the population.
Herpes 5 is the official name of cytomegalovirus (CMV). It can also be a cause of mononucleosis. In people with healthy immune systems, the virus may not even cause any symptoms. If you do not have a healthy immune system, it can cause problems passed onto newborns, and can cause hepatitis. CMV can be transmitted through sexual contact, breast-feeding, blood transfusions, and organ transplants. CMV infection is one of the most difficult complications of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).
Herpes 6 gives rise to roseola (a viral disease causing high fever and a skin rash in small children) and a variety of other illnesses associated with fever in that age group. This infection accounts for many of the cases of seizures associated with fever in infancy.
Herpes 7 is even more recently observed and is closely related to 6. Like other human herpes viruses, 6 and 7 are so common that most of humankind has been infected at some point, usually early in life. HHV7 can also cause roseola, but it is not clear what other clinical effects this virus causes.
Herpes 8 was recently discovered in tumors called Kaposi’s Sarcoma (KS). These tumors are found in people with AIDS and are otherwise very rare. KS forms purplish tumors in the skin and other tissues of some people with AIDS. It is very difficult to treat with medication. HHV8 may also cause other cancers, including certain lymphomas (lymph node cancers) associated with AIDS. The fact that these cancers are caused by a virus may explain why they tend to occur in people with AIDS when their immune systems begin to fail.
Dormant vs Active Viral Infections
What wakes herpetic infections from their cozy little rest? Many factors that include stress, sex, temperature fluctuations, weakened immune systems and even certain foods (lysine/arginine ratio) can trigger an outbreak. There is no formula to determine when you can experience an outbreak once contracting HSV. It can show its ugly head of symptoms as early as a week, up to years after infection. Each person’s immune response to environmental and emotional stress is different, so your biggest defense for any viral overload is to nurture your superhero–the immune system! You can experience an outbreak at first contact or during a stressful time, and it could be a one-time event for you. A revisit from any strain of a herpetic virus can overload your immune system and create the cytokine storm we have all heard so much about in the past year. No thank you!
Like many viruses, Herpes (HSV) is a sneaky devil and can lay dormant and hide out in the ganglia nerve. Keep HSV dormant by actively lowering your stress levels, because stress can raise your cortisol levels and hormones play a huge role in one’s stress response. Try adding exercise, switch to eating clean and unprocessed foods, and consciously participate in suppressing any immune overload. You can also try meditating, practicing yoga, mindfulness, or other ways to cope and manage stress. Some sources tout that a lysine-rich diet may suppress the herpes virus. All these factors can contribute to less frequent flare-ups.
Herpetic Infections Relationship with Autoimmunity
More and more evidence is linking herpes viruses to the development of multiple autoimmune disorders including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjögren’s syndrome, and central nervous system neurological illness. Studies have suggested that vulnerability to multiple sclerosis is gained in early childhood, with viral infections acting as a trigger. If a herpes infection is activated, it can contribute to the development of autoimmune diseases.
“’It’s important to note that EBV is triggering exhaustion and flu-like symptoms for millions of women. EBV is super common: 95 percent of people have it. It will lie dormant in the body as long as the immune system is strong. But stress — like that caused by COVID- 19 (from any source) — can weaken immunity, allowing EBV to reactivate. In a study conducted by Ohio State University, subjects under increased stress were twice as likely to have EBV reactivation.“
Let’s just say, herpes sucks! It’s surprising how many people do not know that their herpetic infection can awaken under a stressful circumstance. To confirm whether or not yours may have resurfaced and may be a trigger for your health challenges, a test of EBV virus nuclear antigen, capsid, IGM and early antigen markers can be performed through a blood draw to confirm this suspicion. Ask your doctor.
To summarize, there are multiple ways herpes viruses trigger autoimmunity. Both molecular mimicry and bystander activation were reported in EBV- and HSV- induced autoimmunity. In addition, as ‘neurotropic’ viruses, herpes viruses can infect and kill central nervous system cells directly, leading to several autoimmune diseases.
The cause of any virus story? Who really knows. Today we are facing new viruses and strains that are running through the population at rapid rates. Viruses and bacteria will always be on this planet, and will always challenge our immune health. It’s their job. We can defend ourselves from these pesky little buggers by ramping up our immunity with proper diet, stress management, and supplementation.
Want my quick and basic protocol for anti-viral support? Here it is:
1) Vitamin D – 10,000 IU daily (monitor with labs to 60 ng/dl)
2) Selenium – 200mcg twice daily (no more than 3 months!)
3) Zinc – 100mg, divided doses and mind you it may cause nausea (copper required if long term)
Come see us and Dr. Autoimmune and get a baseline of your health, so you can win the war on virus overload and create a flexible, super-human immune system!