One might believe that viruses besides SARS-CoV2 are novel, but viruses have been around for a very long time. Not only have they been infecting our ancestors for generations, but right now, you have viruses that have taken up residence in your body since childhood or earlier. Articles like today’s encourage functional medicine providers when you run across the author’s recognition of what we’ve been saying: that the CMV (cytomegalovirus) can live for decades hidden in our bodies while contributing to multiple other seemingly unconnected diseases. While we are glad that they can acknowledge what we already knew about CMV and other viruses, I am not excited about their ultimate plan.
CMV belongs to the herpes family of viruses along with Epstein-Barr Virus, Herpes 1 and 2, Chickenpox, and others. These viruses each have their preferences for tissues they infect and thus the symptoms they cause but share some common features. Besides sharing similar genetic and building structures, they also share the ability to settle into long term, occult (hidden) chronic infections. Some of these occult infections are completely hidden from view without any outward signs. Some are essentially hidden in that their triggering of other chronic diseases like cancer or autoimmune disease is rarely suspected. Some are hidden but cause ongoing lower grade symptoms without a disease name attached, unless you include chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia.
Given that some of these viruses have infected over 80-90% of adults, including CMV, the potential for chronic infections causing a lot of illness is very high. While the widespread occurrence would suggest that CMV is nothing more than a minor viral illness, some specialties already recognize its dangers. Pediatricians have recognized how women with active CMV during pregnancy can transmit the virus to their newborns sometimes leading to devastating congenital disease, even death. Transplant surgeons are painfully aware of the potential for CMV to reawaken during post organ transplant immune suppression therapy to destroy the new liver or kidney. Functional medicine providers regularly find the viral cousin EBV in chronic disease, but occasionally can link re-activated CMV or smoldering CMV with their patient’s chronic unexplained illnesses.
In this study, besides the good news that they are acknowledging the obvious problem of occult viral infections, they also describe the good news that our bodies have a mechanism to fight the transmission of the virus from mom to their developing baby inside. Rather than depend on simple antibodies to attach and neutralize the virus directly, apparently the more effective mechanism is when an immune cell called a macrophage recognizes the antibodies on the virus or a virus-infected cell and attacks. Rather than depend on the antibody to disable the virus on its own, the antibody directs the macrophage to either eat the virus or kill the cell in which the virus is growing. Mothers with more of this type of antibody were much less likely to transmit symptomatic CMV infections to their children than mothers who only had neutralizing antibodies.
So we have a “good” mechanism to protect babies from congenital infection along with “good” mechanisms that prevent a full blown CMV infection under normal circumstances. We have a “bad” virus and its family that covertly lives inside us causing both unsuspected and suspected health issues in us and our children. The “ugly” and dark lining of this article comes out as they hope to develop mRNA vaccines against this virus. Without getting into details, this new vaccine technology is alarming. For now, functional medicine providers like myself will continue to work on helping our patients with chronic CMV to live healthier more abundant lives by augmenting and supporting their God-given immunity to combat and prevent disease.
Eleanor C. Semmes, Itzayana G. Miller, Courtney E. Wimberly, Caroline T. Phan, Jennifer A. Jenks, Melissa J. Harnois, Stella J. Berendam, Helen Webster, Jillian H. Hurst, Joanne Kurtzberg, Genevieve G. Fouda, Kyle M. Walsh, Sallie R. Permar. Maternal Fc-mediated non-neutralizing antibody responses correlate with protection against congenital human cytomegalovirus infection. Journal of Clinical Investigation, 2022; DOI: 10.1172/JCI156827
Thanks to Science Daily:
Weill Cornell Medicine. “New clues to how maternal antibodies can protect babies from cytomegalovirus.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 July 2022. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/07/220722123245.htm>.
Sanctuary Functional Medicine, under the direction of Dr Eric Potter, IFMCP MD, provides functional medicine services to Nashville, Middle Tennessee and beyond. We frequently treat patients from Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, and more... offering the hope of healthier more abundant lives to those with chronic illness.