herpes simplex, zoster, Epstein Barr, CMV, virus, Bell's palsy, shingles, genital herpes, oral herpes, chicken pox, sixth disease, roseola

Herpesviridae: Indicators of Compromised Immunity

Herpesviridae: Indicators of Compromised Immunity

© 2008 Wellness Clubs of America.com

A young lady recently reported that she had been found to have shingles and that a co-worker was dealing with Bell’s palsy. She was not seeking information or advice; she was simply stating a fact. It was clear from her conversation that she had no idea why either condition had appeared. Had she understood why the diseases had presented she would have been impressed by their similarities, and she would have been much better equipped to deal with the challenge her shingles presented.

Shingles is an infection of a nerve by the herpes zoster virus. In most instances, Bell’s palsy is an infection of a nerve by the herpes simplex 1 virus. The viruses are members of a family named herpesviridae that cause a diverse group of diseases.

The family named is derived from the Greek word herpein, which means “to creep”. The herpes viruses have the ability to lie dormant in the body for extended periods of time. When a favorable opportunity presents itself they “creep” out of hiding and cause disease.

The lady with shingles had been infected by a herpes virus called varicella earlier in her life. At that time it had presented as chicken pox. Successive crops of small water blisters had appeared on her skin. When the lesions had resolved she had been pronounced well.

Although it appeared that everything had returned to normal, the virus had not been totally defeated; it had retreated to the roots of nerves where it went into hibernation and waited silently until an opportunity appeared to awaken and creep down the nerve. The reactivated virus inflamed the involved nerve and the overlying skin. It was the same virus that had caused chicken pox; it had simply changed its name. It was no longer known as varicella, but zoster. The skin lesions it caused were not referred to as chicken pox; she was said to have shingles.

Her friend’s Bell’s palsy, on the other hand, was most likely triggered by an infection of the facial nerve by the herpes simplex virus. The infection had caused the nerve to become inflamed. The resulting swelling had compressed the nerve as it passed through a bony canal in the skull. The pressure blocked the signals the nerve was carrying resulting in a paralysis of one side of her face.

There are eight known human herpes viruses. They are designated as HHV-1 through HHV-8. Each has a common name as well.

HHV-1 is better known as herpes simplex type 1 or “oral herpes.” It is the virus that commonly causes the lesions referred to as “fever blisters” or “cold sores”. HHV-1 infections are very common. It is estimated that seventy percent of the adult population in the United States has antibodies to herpes simplex 1.

HHV-1 causes a wide array of conditions. The initial infection may be mild, but it can also be very serious. Sores can occur anywhere on the body, but the mouth is the most common site. During the initial attack sores may involve the entire mouth making it difficult to eat and drink. In rare instances the infection can even be fatal.

While the lips are the most common site for subsequent infections to appear, other areas can be involved. The virus will retreat to the root of the nerve supplying the site on which the lesion is located. Infants and toddlers who suck on a finger or thumb during an oral attack may develop recurring lesions on the exposed digit. Wrestlers who come into close contact with infected opponents can develop sores on any area of skin that is cracked or abraded. Sores that recur in a specific location on the body are almost always due to HHV-1.

The herpes simplex 1 virus can also infect the cornea of the eye. When this occurs, vision is jeopardized. While subsequent herpes simplex infections of the skin are generally milder than the initial infection the opposite is true in the eye. Infections due to reactivation of the virus on the surface of the eye can be progressively more severe and can lead to loss of vision due to clouding of the cornea.

While viral reactivation generally travels down the course of the nerve to the surface of the body, in some cases it travels toward the brain. When this occurs, herpes simplex encephalitis, one of the most severe infections of the brain, develops. Without aggressive treatment two in three individuals with herpes simplex encephalitis will die in a short amount of time. Treatment can increase the survival rate to eighty percent, but only few survivors regain normal brain function. Nearly all are left with some degree of mental impairment and fifty percent have serious long-term neurological challenges.

Closely related to oral herpes simplex is HHV-2, which is commonly referred to as herpes simplex type 2 or “genital herpes”. Approximately twenty-five percent of women and twenty percent of men in the United States carry the HHV-2 virus. Herpes simplex 2 is spread almost exclusively by sexual contact. While it has been shown that the virus can survive up to four hours on a hard surface and as long as 72 hours on dry cloth there are no documented instances in which an infection has been caused by contact with an object such as a towel or toilet seat.

Herpes simplex 2 typically causes sores in the genital area. As in the case of herpes simplex 1 the initial infection may be mild or the entire genital area may be covered with painful ulcers. Lesions caused by viral reactivation are generally fewer in number and more localized.

While herpes simplex 1 is often referred to as oral herpes and herpes simplex 2 as genital herpes it is not possible to know with certainty which virus is present without obtaining a sample of the fluid from one of the blisters and having it analyzed. Approximately 85 percent of oral lesions are caused by HHV-1 and 15 percent by HHV-2. In the genital area the ratio is reversed. Self inoculation (spreading the virus from one site to another) is believed to be the most common reason for the appearance of these viruses in an atypical location.

HHV-3 is the varicella zoster virus. When it causes the initial infection, chicken pox, it is called the varicella virus. When it is reactivated and shingles appears it is called the zoster virus. I have seen a number of cases of chicken pox occur after a child was exposed to someone with shingles, and I have treated many cases of shingles that came on after an adult had been exposed to a child with chickenpox.

Chicken pox lesions appear as tiny water blisters on the skin. Over several days the blisters dry up and crust over. The lesions appear in “crops” on successive days. When the last crop of blisters has crusted the disease is no longer contagious.

When the virus is reactivated it follows the course of a nerve to the skin. Because the nerve itself is infected the condition can be very painful. As the disease progresses blisters on a reddish base break out on the skin supplied by the affected nerve. While it is theoretically possible for two nerves to be infected simultaneously, I have never seen an instance in which that has occurred. One of the diagnostic signs of shingles is that it begins and ends at the midline of the body. Any rash that involves both sides of the body is extremely unlikely to be shingles.

Just as fever blisters can occur repeatedly, so shingles can occur more than once. It does not occur as easily as fever blisters, however. Minor challenges to the body’s immune system can trigger an outbreak of herpes simplex 1 or 2. Greater challenges are generally required to trigger an attack of shingles. Thirty years ago it was taught that shingles was an indication that cancer was present unless proven otherwise. At that time it rarely appeared in individuals less than fifty years of age. Because the average person’s immune competence has declined dramatically since that time shingles is now seen in young people and it is no longer considered a sign of an undiagnosed cancer.

HHV-4 is known as the Epstein-Barr virus, which causes infectious mononucleosis. “Mono” is not characterized by skin lesions so much as it is by fever, extreme fatigue, sore throat, and tender swollen lymph nodes. The HHV-4 virus has also been linked to a cancer in children called Burkitt’s lymphoma. In immunocompromised individuals, such as those infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), it can cause other cancers.

The Epstein-Barr virus can cause recurring infections that are characterized by the presence of a low-grade fever, swollen lymph nodes, aches, and malaise. It is one of the known causes of chronic fatigue syndrome.

HHV-5 is known as the cytomegalovirus (CMV). While CMV can present a picture similar to that seen with infectious mononucleosis, most infections go unnoticed. Approximately sixty percent of children in the United States have been infected by age six and ninety percent of people have become infected by the age of eighty.

CMV infections can be serious in two instances. If an expectant mother contracts the virus for the first time during her pregnancy the infant may become infected as well. Intrauterine CMV infections can cause hearing loss, visual impairment, mental retardation, or developmental delays.

If the expectant mother is in good health the chances of a poor outcome are very remote. Only 1/3 of the infants exposed to a primary CMV infection in the womb become infected. Of those, less than 15 % have any symptoms at the time of birth.

CMV can be transmitted in the breast milk; infants who become infected do not tend to develop any symptoms or experience any complications.

Immunocompromised individuals including people on immune-suppressing drugs, individuals with cancer, those on hemodialysis, or infected with HIV can become very ill or even die from complications of an initial exposure to or reactivation of the CMV virus.

HHV-6 and HHV-7 are known to cause a childhood illness called sixth disease. Typically the child will develop a high fever. The temperature often rises abruptly, making a febrile seizure likely. It is estimated that HHV-6 infections account for 20 % of emergency room visits for evaluation of fever. The fever subsides in two or three days. Approximately ten percent of those infected will develop a red rash as the fever dissipates. The rash, called roseola, begins on the trunk of the body, spreads outward to the arms and legs, and then resolves without treatment.

Reactivation of HHV-6 has been suggested as a co-factor in a variety of diseases including multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and AIDS, but no definite link has been established. Reactivations can cause severe disease in immunocompromised individuals.

HHV-8 is also known as Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus. Kaposi’s sarcoma is a cancer that is generally limited to people with weak immunity. A sudden rise in the number of men presenting with with Kaposi’s sarcoma was one of the keys that led to the discovery of HIV and AIDS.

Initial infections by members of the herpesviridae occur regularly in people with normal immune systems. For example, nearly every child in the United States has been infected by HHV-6 before reaching three years of age. Prior to the widespread use of varicella vaccine nearly every child caught chicken pox early in life.

Since viruses cannot reproduce themselves outside of a living cell, the intensity and duration of initial infections can be significantly reduced. Specific extracts from elderberry have been shown to be effective in coating viruses so that they cannot puncture cell membranes and inject their genetic material. Taken at the onset of any viral infection the extracts can have a dramatic effect. Two of the currently available brands are Sambucol and ViraBloc-i. They are administered four times daily for two days. After I began recommending that parents give Sambucol at the first sign of chicken pox I never saw a youngster with more than a dozen lesions. Most were well within two to four days.

Vitamins A and C support the immune response to viruses. While mononucleosis can drag on for months I have seen individuals who supplemented 50,000 IU of beta carotene twice daily and 500 to 1000 mg. of vitamin C four times daily fully recover within two weeks.

The key to avoiding infections from reactivation of one of the herpes viruses is maintaining a strong immune system. This means following a basic health regimen: drinking pure water, breathing clean air, eating sensibly, minimizing exposure to toxins, providing nutritional support, being physically active, and getting adequate rest.

Supplementation with L-Lysine can dramatically decrease the number of herpes simplex outbreaks. Amounts of 500 – 1500 mg. daily are required. Taking 1000 mg. of L-Lysine three times daily when an outbreak occurs can shorten its duration. Resveratrol, a grape skin extract, is also helpful in preventing outbreaks of HHV-1 and HHV-2.

Had the individual with shingles consulted me I would have recommended that she immediately begin supplementing vitamin A, vitamin C, and an immune booster. In addition, I would have encouraged her to support her body’s ability to reduce inflammation.

Omega-3 oils, such as those extracted from cold-water fish, give the body raw materials needed to produce anti-inflammatory substances. Two capsules twice daily are usually sufficient. Flax oil may be used, but it should be in liquid rather than capsule form. Two tablespoons daily is a typical serving. Since a tablespoon of flax oil is equivalent to fourteen capsules an individual would need to take twenty-eight flax oil capsules daily.

Taken in conjunction with the omega-3 oils, systemic enzymes can significantly reduce the severity and shorten the duration of a shingles outbreak. More importantly, they can reduce the chance of developing lasting nerve pain, a condition called post-herpetic neuralgia. Four to six capsules three times daily are required. They must be taken at least one hour before or two hours after eating to be used effectively.

If supports were not introduced at the outset and post-herpetic neuralgia has developed, supplementation with omega-3 oils and systemic enzymes often brings about improvement. The amounts used are the same as those recommended for use early on. Applying a cream that contains capsaicin, an extract from cayenne pepper, can ease the pain. Capsaicin does not bring about immediate relief, but the pain gradually diminishes as Substance P, a chemical that is needed for the transmission of pain impulses, is depleted. Alpha-lipoic acid 200 mg. twice daily is also helpful and may improve the chances of recovery.

The skin lesions of shingles should be sprayed with microclustered water frequently. This is water that has been treated with a catalyst that breaks naturally occurring clusters of H2O molecules into smaller sizes. The treated water is able to enter cells more easily to maintain optimum hydration. The catalysts are referred to as Willard Water or simply Catalyst Water. One ounce of catalyst is added to each gallon of purified water, which can be poured into a spray bottle for ease of use.

I have found colostrum creams to be the most effective topical treatment of shingles. They are soothing and the immune-supporting substances they contain appear to act locally to limit the infection.

The management of Bell’s palsy is similar to that of shingles. Vitamins A and C should be taken in the same amounts. Omega-3 oils and systemic enzymes should be supplemented in the same manner.

One of the most worrisome aspects of Bell’s palsy is the potential for damage to the surface of the eye. The cornea, the clear surface over the pupil and iris must be protected until the paralysis resolves.

The cornea is normally kept moist by a film of tears that is distributed each time the eye closes. The muscle weakness that occurs in Bell’s palsy interferes with normal blinking of the eye. Measures must be taken to ensure that the cornea remains moist. Artificial tears should be used during the day. My personal favorite is Celluvisc. Its viscosity is greater than most, but it is not so thick that it will obscure vision. An ointment may be used at night, but I prefer that the eyelid be taped closed. This is accomplished by placing one or two cotton balls over the closed eye and holding them in place with paper tape. Pulling down slightly on the skin of the forehead and up on the cheek while applying the tape will ensure that enough pressure is applied to keep the eyelid closed through the night. Eye cups that are taped over the eye are an alternative to the use of cotton balls.

Herpesviridae is a diverse family that creates a wide array of conditions. Some are mild and others are life-threatening. Once present in the body, all have the potential to reactivate and cause disease at any time. Reactivation indicates that the body’s immune system is compromised. Following a basic wellness regimen should keep herpes viruses in hibernation. If cold sores, shingles, Bell’s palsy, or another condition indicative of a reactivation of one of the herpes viruses occurs, measures should be taken to restore immunity to its normal level. Doing so should not only prevent subsequent outbreaks, it should significantly decrease the risk of other diseases and conditions that appear when the body’s immune system is unable to respond to the many challenges it faces on an ongoing basis.

© 2008 Wellness Clubs of America.com

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