Page 12-Friday, December 4, 1981-The Michigan Daily
Herpes viruses fight
Luerrilla war in victims
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NEW YORK (AP) - It lurks within
the body, waiting for a change to at-
tack. Suddenly, it strikes, sometimes
with devastating force; then it quietly
Doctors think as many as 20 million
Americans may have recurrent bouts
of genital herpes-nobody knows for
sure. Several hundred thousand more
get the disease every year.
THE HERPES viruses fight a
guerrilla war, hiding somewhere in the
nervous system and darting out for a
surprise attack. Researchers think that
once the viruses enter the body, they
are there for good.
Three years ago, Jane Rubinsky, a
29-year-old New Yorker, developed
severe back and leg pains and a strange
tingling sensation on her skin. She knew
what it was, because her boyfriend had
"We thought we could prevent tran-
smission," she says. They were wrong.
The relationship fell apart.
"I WAS THE first person he'd given it
to, and he couldn't deal with it," she
She abandoned hope of becoming a
ballet dancer. The pains in her legs
were too great. She quit a job as photo
editor for a dance magazine-the stress
of the job seemed to aggravate the
She tried to fight the virus any way
she could. "I had to get enormous
amounts of sleep. As soon as I missed
some, it brought on the outbreaks.
"AFTER A YEAR, the symptoms
began to subside a little, but I'm always
aware there's something in there."
Doctors are optimistic that treatmen-
ts for herpes will eventually be found,
but at the moment there is no cure.
When the virus is dominant, doctors
can't even find it, let alone fight it. They
don't know what triggers the outbreaks,
or why they disappear.
"People get scared to death," says
Dr. Mary Guinan of the Centers for
Disease Control in Atlanta, Ga. "It's
presented as incurable, and when you
say incurable, people think of cancer."
THERE IS NO reason for panic,
Guinan says. The disease may be in-
curable, but it does not get
progressively worse. Often, the sym-
ptoms become milder as time goes on.
Until recently, only a handful of
researchers studied this herpes
guerrilla warrior. Now thousands of
doctors and scientists are struggling to
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understand it, and a first generation of
anti-viral drugs is being tested.
Herpes, which Guinan calls a "white,
middle-class disease," is more
frightening for women. Men get it just
as frequently, but women face two
THEY ARE more likely to get cer-
vical cancer, and they risk infecting
their babies at birth. That infection
causes death or serious damage to half
the newborns who get it.
Jane Rubinsky is not a typical herpes
victim. Her symptoms are worse than
most. A third of genital herpes patients
will rarely have another outbreak after
their first infections. Another third will
have only an occasional attack. For
them, herpes is simply a nuisance.
The remaining third, like Rubinsky,
are the unlucky ones. They will suffer
outbreaks of painful herpes lesions on
their genitals once a month or even
more often, and they may have other
MOST GENITAL herpes sufferers
get the disease worst when they are fir-
st exposed to it. Many become feverish,
get headaches, and develop a sick-all-
over-feeling - what doctors call
malaise. Those symptoms might last for
several days or a week.
Recurrences for most people consist of
genital lesions that can look like pim-
ples and sometimes develop into open
sores. The other symptoms usually
don't reappear after the initial infec-
Herpes viruses can cause serious eye
and brain infections, but those are rare,
and there is no evidence that genital
herpes victims have an increased risk
of getting them.
ALTHOUGH DOCTORS don't under-
stand why the virus recurs, they do
know that recurrences can be triggered
by emotional stress, sunburn, or the on-
set of menstruation.
The disease is usually transmitted by
sexual contact, but that can only hap-
pen around the time when lesions ap-
pear. "It's clear that we have cases
that are not caused by sexual contact,,,
says Guinan, "but I would say those are
less than 10 percent of all the patients
Genital herpes is usually caused by
the herpes simplex virus type II. It can
also be caused by herpes simplex type
I, the virus that normally causes cold
sores on the lips.
ABOUT HALF of American adults in
higher economic groups have been ex-
posed to the two herpes simplex
viruses, and that figure raises to almost
100 percent for adults in lower
Another herpes virus causes chicken
pox in children, half of whom get the
disease before they reach school age.
The culprit is the varicella-zoster virus,
a wildly infectious virus that hits 96
percent of those exposed to it.
Doctors believe that virus remains
latent in the body and sometimes reap-
pears in the elderly and in cancer
patients as shingles, a painful skin con-
THE OTHER herpes viruses are Ep-
stein-Barr virus, which causes
monoucleosis, and cytomegalovirus,
which causes potentially fatal infec-
tions in cancer patients and others and
can produce congenital deformities in
The herpes viruses, which can also
cause rare eye infections and a deadly
brain infection called herpes en-
cephalitis, all have the property of
latency, according to Dr. Sally Stan-
sfield of the Centers for Disease Con-
Medical science has made great
strides in treating bacterial infec-
tions, but viruses-responsible for her-
pes, the flu, the common cold and many
other diseases-are tougher to fight.
ONE REASON IS that viruses are
Another reason is that viruses burrow
into human cells and take over. Bac-
teria attack from the outside, where
drugs can reach them more easily.
The viruses alter the cells' genetic
material-DNA-turning the cells into
tiny factories that churn out more her-
pes viruses. When those viruses infect
neighboring cells, a herpes lesion
"IT'S DIFFICULT to find a drug that
would specifically attack the viral DNA
without attacking normal cells," Stan-
Tests are under way on several drugs
that would interfere with the triggering
process that causes herpes to recur, but
none of them would actually eliminate.
the virus from the body.
"I think the best bet is that they could
suppress the severity of the episode.
and reduce the likelihood of tra-
smission of the virus to othe- -n't
dividuals, which is no small accomL
plishment," says Dr. James Overall
Jr., a specialist in infectious diseases at
the University of Utah College' of
AMONG THE drugs that cout
reduce the severity of attacks, the most
promising so far is acyclovir, OveraU
says. It has been tested with animals
and also in preliminary studies -with
The drugs, made by Burroughs
Wellcome Co., may be put into limited
use late this year for treatmeb 1i
severe complications of herpes, th
company says. - 2
Widespread use of the drug may:stH
be two or three years away, when dtoc-
tors can be sure it doesn't have, avsi
ONE DIFFICULTY in drug tests is
that herpes is very sensitive to the so-
called placebo effect. In one study,
patients given an inert substance that
they thought would fight herpes had 58
percent fewer outbreaks with a 93 per-
cent reduction in severity, even though
the supposed "drug" did nothing.
Dr. Michael Truppin, a New York ob-
stetrician-gynecologist, is one of a han*
dful of doctors using a laser to remove
herpes lesions. Up to 65 percent of
patients having frequent recurrd-
ces-every four to eight weeks-}ae
gone several months without'a
recurrence after the treatmentY°
Investigators at the Merck Sharp and
Dohme Research Laboratories in Pen-
nsylvania are working on a vaccine that
would make patients immune to the
herpes simplex virus, but it is too soon
to tell how well it will work.
Herpes has spawned a rash of un
proven "cures" and "treatments,"
according to the Centers for Disease
Control. Smallpox vaccine, which won't
stop herpes and which can have har-
mful effects, is being given by some
SOME PATIENTS have tied taking
vitamins C, E and B-12,but-their value
has never been demonstrated. Others
have tried eating foods containing
lysine, an amino acid thought to inhibit
growth of the virus in the laboratery;
Again, its effectiveness is unI ow- at
are the side-effects of large doses. , '
There is one way for herpes patie*b1
to help themselves. That's by fighting
the disease on the psychological grouri
ds. .. 1" c '
FRANK, A 26-year-old New Ybrk.
photographer who asked that his rwal
name not be used, got a severe case
genital herpes two years ago. ".
He had frequent and sometimes
overlapping recurrences of lesi'on
during the first year. They he read
about HELP, an organization dedicated
to aidingtherpes sufferers.
"I learned how to handle this thing,
and it's been like a completely different
illness psychologically," he says. "Sin
ce May, my outbreaks have been
reduced in frequency and intensity, and
I haven't had an outbreak for about
month now. That would have been i
conceivable a year ago."'
Frank is not alone. Many members Q
HELP report improvement since
joining the association and taking ud
psychological warfare against herpes.
But patients still have to worry about;
spreading the infection. "You feel like
a walking time bomb," says Jane
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