I know that my brother had roseola when he was 14 months old, because I found mention of the episode in one of my father’s journals. Although it was not documented, I assume the rest of us also contracted the disease. Most children do, before they are two years old, often with symptoms so mild they evade diagnosis.
Although roseola was officially described in 1910, and studies in the early 1950’s led scientists to believe that it was caused by a virus, it was not until the 1980’s that the virus was isolated and named: Human Herpes Virus-6 (HHV-6). What was being discovered about this virus would have roused great concern, had not the attention of the scientific and medical communities, and the media, been overwhelmed by the more obvious medical problem of the time: AIDS.
Although most children apparently handle roseola with little difficulty, for others an HHV-6 infection can be devastating, often swiftly fatal. Furthermore, just as chicken pox (another herpesvirus, HHV-3) sometimes resurfaces as painful shingles after years of lying dormant in the body, HHV-6 can reactivate. Research is still in the preliminary stages, but reactivated HHV-6 infections have been implicated in a wide range of serious illnesses, including multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue syndrome, some cancers and mental illnesses, and an array of other neurological or immune system diseases.
The Virus Within is not only a frightening medical thriller, it’s a sad object lesson in the politics of medical investigation, which I glimpsed briefly in my research laboratory days. As much as we would like to believe that the governmental agencies responsible for overseeing our health, and the academic institutions pursuing the conquest of disease, are primarily interested in truth and the benefit of mankind, in reality the support, funding, and publication of scientific research is tainted by politics, self-seeking, and prejudice at all levels.
I found The Virus Within to be frightening and frustrating, but not discouraging. It has strengthened my opinion that the most serious “health care crisis” in the United States is not lack of universal medical insurance, nor litigation and high malpractice rates, nor the vagaries of managed care. It is that we depend too much on the blessings of medical and technological breakthroughs, to the neglect of critical lifestyle concerns. HHV-6, like so many other diseases, preys primarily on those with weakened immune systems. Very few of us can influence governmental health policies or make medical breakthroughs, but most of us can take steps to strengthen our immune systems.
Eat healthy foods. Avoid junk food. Exercise more. Have a positive attitude. Breastfeed your babies (good for their immune systems and yours!). Get plenty of rest. Drink plenty of water. Minimize your exposure to harsh chemicals (smoke, pollution, food additives). Avoid legal drugs whenever possible and illegal drugs at all times. Drink alcohol only in moderation. Practice sexual restraint (an act of rebellion against modern culture if there ever was one, but you will save your immune system from a host of assaults). Smile a lot. Practice forgiveness. Reserve your anger for injustice against others rather than yourself, and even then indulge in it only when you can translate it into action. Meditate on the good, the true, and the beautiful. Make music. Do whatever is necessary to strengthen your family life. Turn off the television. Learn to appreciate silence. Read an uplifting book. Achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Reassess your schedule, your job, your expectations, and your priorities. Know the difference between healthy and unhealthy stress. Consider getting your food more from “organic,” or “natural” sources, and less from factory farms with their artificial fertilizers and feed, their added hormones and antibiotics, and their highly-stressed animals. Take a long walk in the woods or by the ocean. Hug a child. Spent time with uplifting, optimistic people. Think more of others than you do of yourself. Relax. Look at the sky. Count your blessings.I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.