All posts tagged COVID-19

From the Tahoe Outbreak to COVID-19 Dr. Peterson and Simmaron Take on the Coronavirus – and ME/CFS

“Testing is so important to everyone in our community, especially front-line workers and people who are at higher risk of severe disease. Simmaron is excited to serve our neighbors and lead the way to broader testing, so we help keep Nevada safe and learn more about this outbreak.” Courtney Miller, President of Simmaron’s Board.

Peterson COVID-19

COVID-19 brought Dr. Peterson’s mind back to the first infectious disease outbreak he’d encountered – the 1984 Incline outbreak – which helped introduce ME/CFS to the U.S.

As Dr. Daniel Peterson watched an infectious disease outbreak bear down on his community like a freight train, his mind flashed back to a time, almost over 35 years ago, when a mysterious infectious event had sent scores of sick people to his office.

The pathogen in what became the infamous 1984 Incline Village outbreak, which helped to put chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) on the map, has never been definitively identified. The inability to identify it has had significant ramifications: the patients weren’t believed and the paltry CDC investigation chalked their symptoms up to hysteria.

Being able to identify the original pathogen could have changed much for those involved and for how the disease was portrayed. Decades later, some of those afflicted still remain ill with chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS). Theirs and Dr. Peterson’s lives took a course change that no one could have anticipated.

Since then Dr. Peterson focused specifically on the post-infectious cohort of ME/CFS patients. He was one of the few doctors to use Ampligen – an immune modulator – and introduced the use of the powerful antiviral Vistide to the field. He brought decades of experience dealing with post-infectious illnesses to the formation of the Simmaron Research Foundation ten years ago.

Report From Paris: Peterson Reports Antiviral (Vistide) Effective in Treating Herpesvirus Infected Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) Patients

In the decade since, at the core of Dr. Peterson and Simmaron’s research has been a unique collaboration with Columbia University’s Center for Infection and Immunity (CII), led by Dr. Ian Lipkin. CII’s Dr. Mady Hornig is also a member of Simmaron’s Scientific Advisory Board.

Together, they have published 8 peer-reviewed manuscripts assessing the immune response across blood, spinal fluid and microbiota, identifying multiple subsets of ME/CFS and characterizing post-infectious immune patterns. The NIH’s current intramural study of ME/CFS focused on post-infectious patients is an overdue but pivotal, and it turns out timely, acknowledgment of the role of infection in triggering this chronic disease.

Dr Nath Talks on the ME/CFS NIH Intramural Study

Thirty-five years after Tahoe’s CFS outbreak much has changed. We have technologies that can identify a pathogen almost in the blink of an eye. The identity of the SARS-CoV-2 virus hasn’t been in doubt since early January.

Some issues remain however. The low coronavirus testing capability in the North Tahoe region meant that even today many, probably most people infected with the virus, were not going to get tested – leaving them in anxious limbo, tying Dr. Peterson’s hands to some extent, and leaving a key question unanswered.

Catching it in the Act

This time the coronavirus offered the opportunity to catch ME/CFS in the act.

This time the coronavirus offered the opportunity to catch ME/CFS in the act.

That question involved ME/CFS. Peterson knew that COVID-19 – the illness associated with the SARS-CoV-2 virus – was likely to birth an immense ME/CFS cohort. This time the outbreak presented a unique opportunity to catch the process of coming down with ME/CFS in the act. It also presented an opportunity to educate a whole generation of doctors about post-infectious illnesses and ME/CFS.

That could only really happen, though, if Dr. Peterson and other doctors and researchers knew their patients had been infected with the coronavirus. COVID-19, after all, will be taken seriously. The common cold will not. It was critical, therefore, to get people tested.

Just as inadequate testing tied Peterson’s hands almost 40 years ago, shortages in vital test kit components were tying his hands today.

Solving the Testing Snafu

What to do? Dr. Peterson and the Simmaron Research Foundation had formed a strong connection with Coppe Labs – an FDA CLIA certified pathogen testing lab with high-complexity clinical testing status.  The founder of the lab, Dr. Konstance Knox, actually sits on the Simmaron Research Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Board. Dr. Knox has been testing ME/CFS patients for viral infection, reactivation and antibodies for decades.

Coppe labs

Dr. Peterson, the Simmaron Research Foundation and Coppe labs collaborated to bring a new coronavirus test to the North Tahoe region.

Peterson, Simmaron staff, and Knox brainstormed. The nasopharyngeal swabs currently being used to identify the virus were available but the viral media they needed to be placed in was not.  But what about the urogenital swabs being used for some rapid polymerase chain reaction test (PCR) testing? They could be shipped frozen in saline to labs for testing.

An application for an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the Food and Drug Administration to collect and test samples using that technique was granted. So was an application to provide an IgG antibody test.

Gunnar Gottschalk, PhD, Simmaron’s Clinical Research Director and emerging scientist trained by Dr. Peterson, Simmaron and Rush University, led the effort.

“The supply chain crisis has severely hindered the nation’s COVID-19 testing capability. We repurposed materials and sought a creative solution which helped our collaborative team achieve FDA authorization rather quickly for both the PCR and the IgG antibody test. This ingenuity, along with the hard work of our research staff, places us in a position to be the leader for COVID-19 testing in Northern Nevada.”

Over the past several weeks, over 500 people have been tested in the Tahoe area for the virus. Since getting approval, the Simmaron Research Foundation has been seeking local funding to allow it to test economically disadvantaged residents.

This Time It’s Different

This time it’s different.  Many of those sickened by the virus will not have to live in limbo. Doctors will be able to follow COVID-19 treatment guidelines knowing that their patients actually have COVID-19. Doctors will be able to treat patients and track their stages of recovery without being ostracized or looked down up. Simmaron can help elucidate the long term impacts of this virus and use that to inform our understanding of chronic ME/CFS.

This time, if pandemic patients develop ME/CFS, doctors will know they did so not because of an unidentified, usually benign cold virus but because of COVID-19 – a fearsome pathogen we know can wreak havoc on many systems of the body. They won’t be able to sweep ME/CFS under the rug with claims of hysteria, depression or somatization like they did 35 years ago.

Knowing COVID-19 is involved is a potential game changer not just for the patients who have trouble recovering, and the doctors treating them, but for the field of ME/CFS itself. The opportunity exists for this disease to finally be taken seriously.

Finally, it shouldn’t pass notice that simply by taking center stage in the Northern Tahoe COVID-19 testing effort, the Simmaron Research Foundation – which is devoted to understanding and treating ME/CFS – is spreading the word on ME/CFS and publicly rooting it in the science of post-viral disease – something the world is likely soon to become all too familiar with.

To learn more about Simmaron Research’s COVID-19 testing effort:

Email: covid19@simmaron.com
Visit: simmaronresearch.com

To donate to Simmaron Research, visit: https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/SimmaronResearch

Will COVID-19 Leave An Explosion of ME/CFS Cases in its Wake?

SARS CoV

The first SARS (SARS CoV) virus was more lethal but killed less people.

The first SARS epidemic in 2003 featuring SARS-CoV now seems like a poor dress rehearsal for today’s SARS CoV-2 outbreak. With just 8,000 cases in total and 774 deaths, (compared to almost 1,000,000 cases and 4,000 plus deaths and rising rapidly) it seems hardly worth including in the same sentence.

Yet it was a “pandemic” (infecting people in 29 countries) that landed many in the hospital and it had a chillingly high death rate – almost ten percent. The first SARS virus was far more lethal than the second one we’re dealing with now.

A few studies that tracked the survivors suggested that 2003, like 2020 surely will be, was probably a banner year for new cases of chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) and/or fibromyalgia. That’s no surprise. We’ve known since the 2006 Dubbo study that a severe infection will leave a percentage of those infected with an ME/CFS-like condition.

The Toronto Outbreak

Like the present SARS-CoV-2 epidemic in the U.S. and other countries, the first SARS virus began its spread into Canada long before the authorities realized it was there or moved to stop it.

One woman returning from Hong Kong, who came down with a fever two days later sparked the pandemic in Toronto. She was dead in two weeks. Only after her son died a week later and several other family members became ill was a link made to a new infection spreading in Hong Kong.

A couple of weeks later, Toronto health authorities instituted emergency measures allowing them to track and detain anyone possibly infected. By the time the outbreak was over 345 people had been confirmed infected and 44  had died.

The Survivors

Several studies tracked the survivors. The first one – a year after the pandemic had passed – assessed lung functioning, provided a chest x-ray, had them do a 6-minute walk test, and assessed their quality of life. Most of the participants were health care workers.

All but two had been admitted to a hospital, 16% had ended up in intensive care and 9% had been put on a respirator.

While the lung functioning and chest x-rays were normal, fatigue (60%), difficulty sleeping (44%), and shortness of breath (45%) were common 12 months later. Only 13% said they’d fully recovered.  Eighteen percent demonstrated a reduced walking distance during the 6-minute walk test.

Thirty-seven percent reported significant reductions in their physical health, and 33% reported a significant reduction in their mental health.

After one year, 17% of patients had still not returned to work, and 9% more had not returned to their pre-SARS work levels.

The conclusion of the study was confounding, dismissing the physical deficits and focusing on mental health. After noting the high degree of fatigue, the problems with sleep, the reduced walking distance, the difficulty returning to work in a significant subset in the results, the authors concluded:

“Most SARS survivors had good physical recovery from their illness, but some patients and their caregivers reported a significant reduction in mental health 1 year later.”

A 110-person 2005 UK study, on the other hand, found significantly reduced exercise capacity and health status six months after the infection. Still another post-SARS study seemed strangely eager to put a gloss on the aftermath of the epidemic as well.

Despite reporting in the results that people aged over 40 experienced significantly reduced “health-related quality of life” over “multiple domains”, and that reduced lung functioning was associated with reduced SF-36 (functional scores) and a lower score on the walk test, the authors concluded that:

“Patients had good recovery of pulmonary function and HRQoL.”

Eight Years Later – Moldofsky’s Fibromyalgia Post-SARS Study

University of Toronto professor Harvey Moldofsky was under no such illusions. A kind of an unsung hero in the ME/CFS and FM world, Moldofsky has been exploring the sleep, pain and fatigue connection in FM, in particular, over the past 30 plus years.

In 2011 – 8 years after the SARS outbreak in Toronto – Moldofsky published a study “Chronic Widespread Musculoskeletal Pain, Fatigue, Depression and Disordered Sleep in Chronic post-SARS Syndrome; A Case-Controlled Study” comparing 22  post-SARS patients with fibromyalgia patients and healthy controls.

The Forgotten

The SARS threat long over, the medical world had moved on to focus whatever the next emergency was – cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, etc. leaving behind the SARS survivors to manage as best they could.

SARS patients unable to work

Eight years after the outbreak in Toronto a group of 50 former healthcare workers remained unable to work

Eight years later, noting that a group of 50 health care workers were still unable to work and were experiencing “musculoskeletal pain, profound weakness, easy fatigability, (and) shortness of breath that accompanied psychological distress” Moldofsky, a sleep researcher, dug deeper.

After assessing their physical and mood symptoms, Moldofsky put post-SARS survivors through a sleep study.

Results 

Moldofsky found, as he suspected, that the post-SARS patients looked very much like ME/CFS and FM patients. Along with the disabling fatigue and pain came non-refreshing sleep, more arousals at night and the mysterious alpha-wave intrusions that often disrupted sleep in the two diseases. Moldofsky also found a delayed entry into REM sleep and increased stage 2 NREM sleep.

One difference did stand out – the post-SARS patients experienced more fatigue and less pain than the FM patients did; i.e. they looked a bit more like chronic fatigue syndrome patients than FM patients.

Moldofsky came up with two possible explanations for the long term disability he saw: psychological trauma from the illness and the direct effects of the virus itself.

Noting that studies indicated the virus is able to spread throughout the brain including the hypothalamus, Moldofsky proposed the virus had produced a chronic neuroinflammatory state affecting sleep, pain sensitivity and energy levels. That hypothesis, of course, is identical to similar ones proposed for ME/CFS and fibromyalgia.

Ending the paper Moldofsky asserted that:

“A longer term, large scale study is needed to establish the contribution of epidemic and pandemic viral disease to the disordered sleep, chronic fatigue and somatic symptoms of chronic fatigue/fibromyalgia syndrome.”

While the 1918 flu pandemic involved the flu – not SARS-CoV-2 –  recovery was so often contracted that it spawned a syndrome known at the time as “encephalitis lethargica”.

The Present SARS Pandemic

That study has never been done, and now here we are with another potential nervous system infecting coronavirus.

SARS-CoV-2 virions

COVID-19 presents a unique opportunity to catch the emergence of post-infectious illness in its tracks.

Avindra Nath at the NIH reported that the virus can cause multiple central nervous system problems (dizziness, headache, impaired consciousness, epilepsy, meningitis, encephalitis as well as delirium, hallucinations, mood disorders, hypomania, anxiety, depression). (It can also hit the peripheral nervous system causing loss of smell, taste problems, neuralgia and muscle injury.)

According to one report, Nath stated that patients with multiple sclerosis, myasthenia gravis, dermatomyositis who are on immunotherapy are at higher risk of developing corona infection.

Severe Infections Found in Younger People

The virus’s lethality for older people is well-known but less well-known are the devastating effects it can have on the young and healthy. While they’re not dying at the rate of the elderly, younger people appear to be being hospitalized at a torrid clip.

Governor Cuomo recently reported that over 50% of coronavirus hospitalizations in New York City are between 18 and 49 years of age.

With models predicting millions may fall ill in the U.S. alone, the emerging SARS-CoV-2 cohort presents an immense opportunity to understand chronic post-infectious illnesses that will (hopefully) not come again.

Since studies indicate that the severity of illness greatly increases the risk of coming down with a post-infectious illness, the high numbers of younger people being hospitalized for COVID-19 suggests considerable numbers of people in the prime of their lives may have an ME/CFS-like illness in their future.

Opportunity Knocks

It’s possible that post-SARS illness cohort will be so large, affect so many younger people, and cause such losses in economic productivity that the NIH and other research institutions will, this time, focus considerable resources on the post-infectious consequences of having a severe infection.

The Dubbo studies and others have invariably found that the type of infection (bacterial or viral), the type of tissue it primarily infects (respiratory system, gut, brain) doesn’t matter. For the most part, after a period of time, the post-infectious illness patients look like each other: they look like ME/CFS/FM patients.

Using post-infectious ME/CFS patients to help understand what post-SARS patients will be going through seems to make perfect sense as well. Avindra Nath’s small, but comprehensively studied, ME/CFS group in the NIH’s intramural study, could provide clues for post-SARS studies.  Expanding Nath’s ME/CFS cohort and using the study to help understand the massive hit SARS-CoV-2 is likely to produce, not today, not tomorrow, not in three months, but in the years to follow would make perfect sense.

Even more impactful would be rigorously following and studying the mass post-COVID-19 cohort that will emerge in order to understand how post-infectious diseases emerge and how to treat them.

Avindra Nath reported that “a lot of people have been asking about post-viral syndromes”, that it would be good to follow the many “postviral immune mediated diseases” (including ME/CFS), and that attempts are being made “to develop nationwide databases”.

Vicky Whittemore reported that the NIH has recognized a huge problem may be brewing, and that an opportunity exists to learn about post-infectious illnesses. She started talking about post-COVID-19 infection illnesses (e.g. sequelae) with Joe Breen and others at NIAID a couple of weeks ago, and have heard from several researchers who are interested.

Whittemore suggested that everyone who tests positive for COVID-19 get on a COVID-19 registry and she mentioned this one. (There may be others.)

It’s possible that ME/CFS holds clues to what hundreds of thousands of people may be experiencing over the next year and onwards. It’s clear that those having difficulty recovering from COVID-19 will hold clues to what has been happening with us as well. A vigorous research effort to understand their plight should provide a boon for us all.

The dark cloud that is the coronavirus could produce a silver lining after all.