Antiviral medicine shows promising results for chronic fatigue

PALO ALTO, Calif. (MCT) — A new treatment under development at the Stanford School of Medicine uses antiviral drugs to wipe out the debilitating symptoms of some patients with chronic fatigue syndrome.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 1 million people suffer from the disease, but not all may improve under the treatment.

Dr. Jose Montoya, an associate professor of medicine at Stanford and director of the National Reference Laboratory for Toxoplasmosis at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, has been able to significantly improve the condition of 85 percent of his patients who suffer from the Epstein-Barr virus and human herpes virus 6.

“Our proposal is that the two viruses working together are creating and maintaining the disease,” Montoya said.

Montoya uses a drug called valganciclovir that targets the two viruses, which often occur together in chronic fatigue sufferers.

He first used the drug to treat a South American patient with swollen lymph nodes and very high levels of antibodies for the viruses in 2004, giving her a six-month dosage rather than the typical two weeks. Soon she called Montoya to say her lymph nodes had shrunk and her fatigue was diminishing.

“I then relayed that experience, and 25 patients later we have 21 patients whose lives have completely turned around,” Montoya said.

He noted that because the patients’ conditions initially worsen, he does not believe a placebo effect is at work. He plans to reinforce his results with a larger, carefully controlled study this spring.

Chronic fatigue is a disease that has drawn many skeptics.

“It’s maddening to have something like this and have people not believe you,” said Michael Manson, a recipient of the new therapy and one of the founders of PetSmart.

Manson, 47, said he had been suffering from the syndrome for 17 years before he began Montoya’s treatment in 2006. After he contracted the disease in 1988, his business partner came down with the same illness within a week, he said.

Though Manson remained at PetSmart for seven and a half more years, he “couldn’t do much outside of the company,” he said.

The man who earlier trained for triathlons and put himself through Stanford and Harvard Medical School was too tired to play with his children. “I would take long naps every day and be ill for a week or two at a time,” he said.

When he began Montoya’s treatment he initially “went down with all the symptoms in spades,” he said.

“For six weeks I was very ill … and then slowly I started climbing out of it in mid-September, feeling better and better,” Manson said.

These days, Manson said he hikes two to four miles each day and is back at work as a managing partner at an investment group.

Kim McCleary, president and CEO of Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome Association of America, said Montoya’s study is “very big news.”

“There’s been an almost 20-year lull in the exploration of antivirals as potential treatments for chronic fatigue,” McCleary said. “It looks very promising.”

Montoya is seeking participants for a new clinical trial of the treatment, likely starting next month.

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