Thursday, January 10, 2008

Viral Infections and Schizophrenia

Even as far back as 100 years ago, scientists perceived a connection between viral infections and "non-affective" psychosis. One of the leading schizophrenia researchers of the time, Kraepelin, proposed that such an infection may be a cause of "dementia praecox" (now called "schizophrenia"). An epidemic of "schizophrenic-syndrome" occurred following the devastating 1918 influenza pandemic.

An editorial in the American Journal of Psychiatry, The Risk for Schizophrenia From Childhood and Adult Infections,[1] by Dr. Alan S. Brown, M.D., M.P.H., discusses the increasing research in this area.
Authorities from several diverse disciplines, including infectious disease, neonatology, pediatrics, neurology, and obstetrics and gynecology have long known that infections during prenatal and postnatal life have many neuropsychiatric sequelae, including behavioral problems, mental retardation, learning disabilities, and mood alterations.
One of the studies cited in the article found that there was a 50% increase in cases of schizophrenia among people who individuals who were exposed in childhood to viral Central Nervous System (CNS) infections.

In spite of some harm caused to some individuals from immunizations, we may have a lot more to be grateful for. Apparently severe CNS infection with mumps virus, for which most babies are now vaccinated against, correlated with a 300% increase in risk for a schizophrenia-type illness. Infection with a type of herpes viruses-- Cytomegalovirus (CMV) -- (some other herpes viruses and illnesses they cause are Epstein-Barr, chickenpox, infectious mononucleosis, Roseolovirus (Sixth disease- a "rash"), and genital herpes) may increase the risk of the brain producing symptoms we call schizophrenia by more than 1600% (that is not a "typo").

On the other hand, we are told these vaccinations can, and should be much more safely administered. We can immunize more sparingly (not so many at a time), let the immune system mature a little longer before immunization, delay immunization if a baby or child is not robust, and there may be precautions to take to help prevent severe reactions.

This research is very distant from being used medically to either prevent or treat any of the cases being labeled "schizophrenia". The authors point out that there is much more rigorous research required. They do point out both the hope and the incredible complexity involved, saying,
With regard to schizophrenia, several infections that have been associated with this disorder can be effectively treated with antibiotics and prevented by vaccination and by minimizing the occurrence of risk factors for these infections.

... it is unlikely that these infections operate in isolation to increase vulnerability to schizophrenia. Hence, it will be critical in future work to identify susceptibility genes and other developmental precursors that act to modify and mediate the effects of infection on schizophrenia risk.
On a personal note, I do believe prenatal viral and genetic factors influenced my baby's developing immune system, and indirectly, at least, her brain vulnerability.

Born with sensory, sleep, immune, and endocrine glitches, I also believe that inappropriate treatment (and non-treatment) of the resulting medical/physical issues, combined with proven environmental toxin hypersensitivities, then compounded by inappropriate psychiatric medications, conspired to create the environment for the damaging "perfect storm" in her brain.

Of course, there is also now increasing evidence that my use of antibiotics in pregnancy, after pregnancy, and my baby's use of antibiotics, all without replenishing the normal microbiota of the gut, may really have been the smoking gun precipitating this whole cascade of events. (For more on this, see: Gut, Brain, Bacteria, and Behavior)

The combination of events may vary for child to child, but the result is still a child suffering with very real problems prior to the "perfect storm" and suffering even more after their brain essentially, "breaks". (Getting this labeled as "mental" only adds insult to the injury.)

Being able to treat the underlying biology appropriately -- whether that is by a combination of supplements, life-style changes, therapy to learn to live better with their innate "wiring", appropriate medications, etc. -- before the symptoms escalate to the point they get called "bipolar", "schizophrenia" or "schizoaffective" -- would be a boon.

The disappointment is that for now, the parents of these children feel we are researchers with a test group of one.

[1] "The Risk for Schizophrenia From Childhood and Adult Infections" by Alan S. Brown, M.D., M.P.H. Am J Psychiatry 165:7-10, January 2008

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