Could the connection between retroviruses and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, or Autism be the scientific story of the century?
Do you know what it feels like to stumble into the scientific story of the century? It is exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a science teacher, an attorney, and an autism dad. My daughter’s autism has made me an advocate, and I’ve written lots of articles for the blog, “Age of Autism,” trying to find out what hope science can offer my daughter, both as a treatment, and an explanation for what happened to her.
In 2009, I stumbled across an interview Dr. Judy Mikovits had given in a television show in Nevada called “Nevada Newsmakers.” Mikovits was talking about the publication of her article in the journal Science which showed that a recently discovered retrovirus, XMRV (xenotropic murine leukemia virus related virus) had been found in 67% of chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) patients and at 3.75% in healthy patients.
If these findings help up, it meant that these patients who had been shunned by the medical community for decades with diagnoses such as “yuppie flu” or “hysterical type A women” who one day fell apart, it meant that they were suffering from something very similar to HIV/AIDS. And that 3.75% number meant that somewhere around ten million Americans were harboring a retrovirus of unknown pathogenic potential.
Then she started talking about a potential link to autism, as they had done some early research into the question.
Here is what she said on that television show:
“There’s always the hypothesis that my child was fine, then they got sick, and then they got autism. Interestingly, on that note, if I might speculate a little bit. This might explain why vaccines lead to autism in some children because these viruses live and divide in the lymphocytes, the immune response cells, the B and T cells. So when you give a vaccine you send your B and T cells into overdrive. That’s its job.”
Well, if you’re harboring one virus, and you replicate it a whole bunch, you’ve now broken the balance between the immune response and the virus. So you could have had the underlying virus and them amplified it with the vaccine and then set off the disease, such that your immune system could no longer control the infection and create an immune deficiency.
That got my attention. Being a curious person and wanting to find out if any of this made sense, I put in a call to the Pediatric AIDS Unit at the University of San Francisco. I got their press person, and brought up the idea of a retrovirus in autism and whether there might be tests available, and what thoughts were on an anti-retroviral regimen if a retrovirus could be found.
But that isn’t where the UCSF employee’s attention went. He immediately said something like, “Well, that might explain why a vaccine could lead to autism.”
If I was a cartoon character, this would have been the moment my head exploded. But instead, I stayed calm and asked, “Could you explain that?”