In a recent Simmaron Tea event, Simmaron’s research collaborators talked about their work to propel discovery in our disease. In Part 2 of our summary, we review Dr. Konstance Knox’s presentation on her collaboration to identify insect-borne pathogens in ME/CFS patients.
Dr. Knox, CEO of Coppe Healthcare Solutions, is a longtime collaborator of Simmaron Research and Dr. Daniel Peterson. A contributor to Simmaron’s spinal fluid studies, she has done years of viral testing and research in patients with ME/CFS and other diseases.
Dr. Konstance Knox – Insect-Borne Diseases and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
From malaria to dengue fever to Lyme disease, “vector-borne” (primarily mosquito and tick-borne) illnesses are among the more difficult challenges facing the medical community. While they are often associated with developing countries, people in the U.S. are not immune from them. Over 20 insect-borne illnesses occur in the U.S. and more are emerging. A new tick-borne virus (Heartland Virus) was recently identified in the Midwest and Eastern U.S. and the dangerous tick-borne Pawossan virus was recently found in the eastern U.S. The first case of West Nile Virus in the Western Hemisphere was identified in New York in 1999. Five years later it was found in every state of the Union.
We know that infectious onset of chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) commonly occurs. We know it can be triggered by many different types of infections (Epstein-Barr virus, parvovirus, Giardia, SARS, hepatitis, etc.).
No study, however, has examined the extent of insect triggered illness or looked for regional clusters of such illnesses in chronic fatigue syndrome – until now.
Simmaron Research and Dr. Knox were awarded residual samples from the NIH XMRV study to comprehensively assess the incidence of insect-borne illnesses in ME/CFS patients across the U.S. Dr. Konstance Knox will lead the first study allowed to use the rigorously collected and characterized samples from the XMRV study.
The study builds on historical associations with ME/CFS that have been bypassed in recent years.
History Repeating Itself?
Insect-borne pathogens by their nature tend to form clusters of illness, and chronic fatigue syndrome, of course, first became well-known when clusters popped up in Incline Village/Lake Tahoe, Lyndonville and other cities in the early 1980’s. Dr. Knox reported that since 1934 at least 12 clusters have been identified in the U.S. including six in the Lake Tahoe region alone.
Over the past 20 years there’s been little focus on clusters. From the Norwegian Giardia and Canadian SARS to the Ebolavirus outbreaks, however, every significant infectious outbreak has left behind a cluster of ME/CFS-like patients.
This study will look for clusters of regional insect-borne illnesses in ME/CFS patients in the U.S. It is driven by the hypothesis that for some people the “flu” they never got over was not caused by some innocuous cold bug but resulted from a mosquito or tick bite.
Comprehensiveness is a keyword for this study. Now only will it involve hundreds of ME/CFS patients from across the U.S., it will also examine almost all possible insect-borne illnesses found in the U.S. including some that are rarely studied. Studies of this size and scope have rarely been done in ME/CFS. The pathogens tested for include:
- Borrelia burgdorferi – Ixodes scapularis, I. pacificus –found across the U.S.
- Tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV) – Europe and Russia, poorly studied in U.S.
- Anaplasma phagocytophilum – Ixodes scapularis, I. pacificus – mostly eastern U.S.
- Ehrlichia chaffeensis – Lone Star Tick – southeastern/southcentral U.S.
- Babesia microti – Ixodes scapularis – northeastern/midwestern U.S.
- Rickettsia rickettsia – American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis), Rocky Mountain wood tick (Dermacentor andersoni), and brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus) – across the U.S.
- Coxiella burnetii – associated with cattle/goats/sheep – spread through dust – across the U.S.
- West Nile Virus (WNV) – across the U.S.
- Dengue Virus (DENV) – southeastern U.S./Texas
- Eastern Equine Encephalitis Virus (EEEV) – eastern U.S.
- Western Equine Encephalitis Virus (WEEV) – west of the Mississippi
- Louis Encephalitis Virus (SLEV) – eastern and central U.S.
- California Encephalitis Virus (CEV) – California
- La Crosse Virus (LCV) – California
Possibly High Misdiagnosis Rates
Dr. Knox believes misdiagnosis rates of these infections could be high. Some are poorly studied and most doctors don’t know about many of them, anyway. Plus unless severe symptoms are present many are rarely tested for . Sudden seizures or blindness may get you tested for West Nile virus, for instance, but more moderate flu-like symptoms it often produces probably will not.
Post-infectious fatigue states following insect-borne infections appear to be common. Over 50% of people with an active West Nile Virus infection still experienced fatigue, cognitive problems, headaches and muscle weakness eighteen months later. Dengue fever, which has re-emerged in the southeastern United States is known to leave behind an ME/CFS-like condition in some patients. Descriptions of virtually all these infections note the “long-term sequelae”; i.e. the long term effects they can leave behind.
Resolving a Medical Mystery?
Plus, a virus like tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV) could hold a clue to controversy that’s roiled the medical profession. Different groups assert that Lyme disease is either a) a relatively rare disease that responds well to antibiotics or b) a common disease that often does not respond to antibiotics and often persists in a chronic state.
But what if they’re both looking in the wrong place? What if that tick bite transmitted a different infection along with the Borrelia – an infection that is resistant to antibiotics? Could the chronic Lyme disease patients are suffering from be a different, undiagnosed tick-borne illness?
Konstance Knox believes a good candidate may be tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV). TBEV is common in Europe and Asia but has been inadequately studied in the U.S. It can produce fatigue that can persist for years and it can be transmitted quickly. People who pluck off a tick before it’s been on them for 24 hours may be relieved that it hasn’t transmitted Borrelia, but TBEV– which is almost never tested for in the U.S. – can be transmitted in fifteen minutes.
Dr. Knox believes she will find a much greater prevalence of exposure to insect borne infections than anyone expects at this point. She hopes this will be the first of many studies examining these illnesses.
Associating ME/CFS with an increased prevalence of insect borne infections would, of course, further legitimize the disease, but the most intriguing impact of the study may be the recognition that some people have undiagnosed but treatable insect borne illnesses.
Resolving a Medical Catch-22
Patients with chronic Lyme disease and those with ME/CFS both suffer from a medical catch-22. If antibiotics don’t return people with Lyme disease to health it’s assumed they have psychological problems. On the flip side, if test results from patients with ME/CFS don’t indicate a recognized disease is present, then their illness must be in their heads as well.
Maybe, just maybe, an infection triggered by a recognized (or unrecognized) pathogen set disturbed the immune systems of both sets of chronically ill patients.
The Simmaron Research Institute believes research holds the answers patients need. This study is the first step. Join Simmaron’s quest for answers.
If you missed Part 1 of our review, find it here: Tea-Time at Simmaron I: Mady Hornig on the “Peterson Subsets”, Immune Exhaustion and New Gut Findings In ME/CFS