The Lyme / Epstein-Barr Connection
NB - all research is based on human health
NB - all research is based on human health
Question: Does Epstein-Barr virus cause Lyme disease? We know that Lyme disease is associated with a microbe called Borrelia, so technically to be classified as Lyme disease there's got to be a positive test for Borrelia.
Thing is, co-infections can come with a tick bite, but they can also be present in the body's tissues. Stats say that 95% of people in the world are carrying the Epstein-Barr virus, with most of us picking it up during childhood, and we carry it in our tissues through our lives - we never get rid of it, along with with a variety of other different stealth microbes hidden in the body’s tissues, sadly a fact of life.
If we end up with Lyme disease and it becomes chronic, i.e. a state of immune dysfunction, then the Epstein-Barr virus – and other hidden stealth viruses – can reactivate with many of the same symptoms.
This reactivation effect of other viruses can cause the symptoms to come and go as the immune system goes up and down as it tries to respond, so even though EBV won't be the cause of Lyme disease, it can definitely be part of Lyme disease.
If you've got typical symptoms of tiredness, achiness, sore throat, possibly swollen throat lymph nodes and low-grade fever that just won’t go away, you'll probably turn to Google, which will likely throw up Mononucleosis up as a possibility. However, if you’re well beyond your teens, mononucleosis isn’t very common.
Chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and even Lyme disease are other possibilities, but then you might come across something called reactivated Epstein-Barr virus, which fits the symptoms to a tee.
So, what makes chronic reactivated EBV chronic, and how does it play into other chronic illnesses? Thing is, EBV is a complex and convoluted long-term troublemaking microbe, and almost everyone has it - EBV is much more common than you might imagine – apparently more than 95% of world’s population has been infected with it.
Another interesting fact is that it’s a herpes-type virus - yep, you read that right - EBV is a close relative of genital herpes. Known technically as Human Herpesvirus 4 (HHV-4), it’s 4th on the list of nine different herpes-type viruses that can infect humans.
Herpesviruses are composed of strands of DNA inside an envelope. After initial infection, they stay dormant in tissues indefinitely, but can reactivate if the immune system function becomes depressed. In other words, if you’ve ever been infected with a herpesvirus like EBV, you will always carry it in your tissues.
The majority of people become infected with EBV as infants or young children, spreading primarily by saliva. To enter the body, it infects mucous membranes lining the mouth, throat, and stomach. From here, the virus then infects B-cells, the type of white blood cell that produces antibodies. It also infects T-cells and the white cells, the body's natural killer army.
Infected white blood cells transport EBV throughout the body, and during this active phase, called the lytic phase, the virus takes over the machinery of infected cells to generate new viruses. This is when people are most symptomatic and contagious.
The virus spreads remarkably easily, especially in children. It is most typically spread by people who are themselves infected but don’t know it - childcare staff, babysitters, grandmothers with those big wet sloppy kisses. Infected children then rapidly pass it along to other children.
Which is a really good thing, because if you get it as an infant or young child (remember to thank your grandmother), you typically don’t get very sick at all. In fact, it’s unlikely that you would even remember the infection.
It’s only if you don’t get EBV at a young age and then get exposed later in life when your immune system is suppressed, that you’re at risk for developing the form of EBV called mononucleosis.
Known as 'kissing disease', infectious mononucleosis (IM) is spread by intimate contact with someone shedding the virus. It typically occurs in young adults who haven’t been exposed early in life, and it usually catches the person off guard when immune system functions are depressed, such as during the stress of exams or college/uni.
Compared to EBV occurring in childhood, IM is much more severe; common symptoms include sore throat, fever, severe fatigue and swollen lymph nodes, but it can drag on for months and be really debilitating.
Whether the initial encounter with EBV occurs as an innocuous infection as a child or as debilitating mononucleosis as an adult, the host’s immune system usually eventually gains ground and the infection is contained. The virus, however, is not eradicated. It persists inside the memory B cells, a type of white blood cell that retains the memory of an infection for future reference – except in this case, the cells are sabotaged into storing the actual virus. Memory B cells infected with EBV accumulate in lymphoid tissue and nerve tissue, and sorry to say they stay there for a lifetime.
This dormant state is referred to as the latent phase. Traditionally, people in the latent phase weren’t considered infectious, but with childcare, teachers, grandmas and college students actively shedding the virus without knowing it, it’s become clear that someone can be very infectious without being ill. In fact, recent evidence supports that people often actively shed the virus from tonsillar tissues without having significant symptoms.
Either way, whether EBV is completely dormant or infectious without symptoms, the virus generally doesn’t cause any significant problems as long as there’s a robust immune system in place. You can carry EBV for a whole lifetime and not know it, as most people do.
However, allow the immune system to become disrupted and EBV can reactivate, causing symptoms similar to the mononucleosis, but much worse.
Chronic reactivated EBV is like mononucleosis from hell. Symptoms include severe chronic fatigue, chronic achiness, chronic sore throat and irritation of mucous membranes, swollen lymph nodes, and a range of debilitating neurological symptoms. Symptoms can wax and wane for years, with severe cases including evidence of liver dysfunction, immune suppression and anaemia.
The most plausible explanation for why chronic reactivated EBV is so severe and unrelenting is that it’s not just EBV that’s at play, and this is where things get both interesting and complicated.
People often carry other herpesviruses in addition to EBV. The list includes Herpes simplex types 1 and 2 (oral and genital herpes), varicella-zoster virus (chickenpox and shingles), cytomegalovirus (CMV), HHV-6 types a and b, HHV-7, and HHV-8.
Though they’re all related, each of these viruses infects the body in a different way, causing slightly different symptom profiles. They’re all remarkably common, lying dormant in tissues, and can be reactivated just like EBV.
If a weakened immune function allows reactivation of multiple herpesviruses at once, symptoms can be severe and highly variable. But, that isn’t the end of the story.
Many people with chronic Lyme disease, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue syndrome are found to have reactivation of EBV, along with other herpesviruses and a list of other microbes including Mycoplasma, Bartonella, Chlamydia, and new microbes added to the list every day. This strongly suggests that reactivation of EBV is likely not EBV alone.
Scientists are just beginning to explore the link between chronic EBV and other chronic illnesses, but one of the most well-researched is EBV’s relationship with multiple sclerosis (MS). Many studies have defined a variety of different mechanisms by which the virus could initiate and perpetuate MS - not enough to define EBV as the sole cause of MS, but highly suggestive that it does play a role in the illness.
Similarly, studies have shown high viral loads of active EBV in a high proportion of patients with a variety of autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, Sjögren’s syndrome, and autoimmune thyroiditis. Again, a strong link, but not enough to suggest absolute cause of EBV alone.
And that’s not the end of the multi-microbe connections. Recent evidence has suggested that EBV and HHV-6a might together play a role in MS. MS has also been linked to a variety of different microbes including, but not limited to, Chlamydia pneumoniae, Mycoplasma sp., Spherula insularis, and paramyxovirus.
Autoimmune diseases have also been linked to a variety of microbes, including EBV, but also additional herpesviruses; other viruses including Parvovirus; a protozoan called Toxoplasmosis; and bacteria including Mycoplasma, Yersinia, and others commonly associated with chronic Lyme disease.
All stealth, pathogenic - aka disease-causing – microbes, sharing similar stealth characteristics:
The deeper you dig, the more connections you find between chronic illnesses and stealth microbes. But after a while, you begin to appreciate that it’s not so much the microbes causing problems, as the disruption of the host’s immune functions that allows those microbes to flourish.
In other words, a person could be harbouring a variety of stealth microbes - EBV, CMV, HHV-7, Borrelia, Bartonella, Mycoplasma, Chlamydia, and more - and not be ill as long as their immune system functions are robust. Let immune system functions falter, however, and you’re looking at the pot boiling over.
It’s not until a perfect storm of factors come together to disrupt immune functions that a person becomes ill – how many of us have had periods of sleep deprivation while eating a poor diet on the run? Then there’s toxins, emotional and physical stress, and … microbes.
How the body reacts may depend on:
To help identify chronic EBV, start by trying to rule out infectious mononucleosis. By definition, IM is an acute infection with EBV alone so it’s worth testing to define IM over reactivated EBV.
IM testing looks for antibodies to the virus; the presence of different types of antibodies can distinguish between IM and reactivated EBV. But testing for IM isn’t always straight-forward - mononucleosis-like syndromes can also occur with other viruses causing viral syndromes similar to EBV.
As for treating chronic reactivated EBV, because there are antiviral agents that work well for IM, you might expect that chronic EBV would also respond to antivirals, but … unfortunately, antivirals don’t work for chronic EBV.
Scientists have sorted out the technical reason for this; antiviral agents work by blocking an enzyme the virus uses to replicate inside cells (DNA polymerase). Latent or chronic EBV infection, however, does not require this enzyme for the virus to replicate; therefore, current antiviral agents are ineffective against chronic EBV infection.
Other conventional therapies, including steroid therapy (Prednisone) and immunosuppressive drugs, have been used to treat chronic EBV infection, but with limited success. These therapies can inhibit the destructive processes of a disrupted immune function, but they have no capacity to restore normal immune function.
Lots of researchers are also looking at vaccines against EBV. The problem is that characteristics of the virus vary greatly across different geographical areas, making it difficult to create a single vaccine.
There are other conventional methods being explored to eradicate EBV but bottom line, the underlying problem is chronic immune dysfunction, and you won’t start getting well until normal immune system functions are restored.
Remember, EBV doesn’t cause problems unless the immune system function has been disrupted. So, this is where we need to start - restoring normal immune system functions in order to suppress whatever microbes may be present and flourishing.
First and foremost is eliminating those system disruptors, following an optimal diet and making lifestyle modifications to promote a healing environment in the body, followed by herbal therapy as the cornerstone of the restorative approach. Herbal extracts have incredible abilities, including:
Ultimately, by limiting the system disruptors, the immune function will strengthen so we can all live in harmony with microbes like EBV.
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