Monday, November 15, 2010

The Insanity Virus

Douglas Fox - Steven and David Elmore were born identical twins, but their first days in this world could not have been more different. David came home from the hospital after a week. Steven, born four minutes later, stayed behind in the ICU. For a month he hovered near death in an incubator, wracked with fever from what doctors called a dangerous viral infection. Even after Steven recovered, he lagged behind his twin. He lay awake but rarely cried. When his mother smiled at him, he stared back with blank eyes rather than mirroring her smiles as David did. And for several years after the boys began walking, it was Steven who often lost his balance, falling against tables or smashing his lip.

Those early differences might have faded into distant memory, but they gained new significance in light of the twins’ subsequent lives. By the time Steven entered grade school, it appeared that he had hit his stride. The twins seemed to have equalized into the genetic carbon copies that they were: They wore the same shoulder-length, sandy-blond hair. They were both B+ students. They played basketball with the same friends. Steven Elmore had seemingly overcome his rough start. But then, at the age of 17, he began hearing voices.

The voices called from passing cars as Steven drove to work. They ridiculed his failure to find a girlfriend. Rolling up the car windows and blasting the radio did nothing to silence them. Other voices pursued Steven at home. Three voices called through the windows of his house: two angry men and one woman who begged the men to stop arguing. Another voice thrummed out of the stereo speakers, giving a running commentary on the songs of Steely Dan or Led Zeppelin, which Steven played at night after work. His nerves frayed and he broke down. Within weeks his outbursts landed him in a psychiatric hospital, where doctors determined he had schizophrenia. ...

Torrey and his colleagues think they have finally found the infectious agent. You might call it an insanity virus. If Torrey is right, the culprit that triggers a lifetime of hallucinations—that tore apart the lives of writer Jack Kerouac, mathematician John Nash, and millions of others—is a virus that all of us carry in our bodies. “Some people laugh about the infection hypothesis,” says Urs Meyer, a neuroimmunologist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. “But the impact that it has on researchers is much, much, much more than it was five years ago. And my prediction would be that it will gain even more impact in the future.”

The implications are enormous. Torrey, Meyer, and others hold out hope that they can address the root cause of schizophrenia, perhaps even decades before the delusions begin. The first clinical trials of drug treatments are already under way. The results could lead to meaningful new treatments not only for schizophrenia but also for bipolar disorder and multiple sclerosis. Beyond that, the insanity virus (if such it proves) may challenge our basic views of human evolution, blurring the line between “us” and “them,” between pathogen and host.

via The Insanity Virus | Mental Health | DISCOVER Magazine.


Ann said...

There's schizophrenia and then there is schizophrenia. The viral cause of schizophrenia theory still needs some explaining to do.

Schizophrenia is not evenly distributed across the globe [1] and it is found more often in urban as opposed to rural environments [2]. And, it affects migrants [as say to Britain] more so than those who remained at home [in the Caribbean] [3]. This has been thought to be due to the stresses of living in a new environment [3] as well as stresses caused by racism [4].

[1]A. Jablensky, Schizophrenia: manifestations, incidence and course in different cultures. A World Health Organization ten-country study. Psychological Medicine Monograph Supplement. 1992; 20:1–97

[2]J.B. Kirkbride, P. Fearon, C. Morgan et al., Heterogeneity in incidence rates of schizophrenia and other psychotic syndromes: findings from the 3-center AeSOP study. Archives of General Psychiatry. 2006; 63(3):250–8

[3] D.M. Louden, The epidemiology of schizophrenia among Caribbean-born and first- and second-generation migrants in Britain, J of Soc Distress and the Homeless 1995; 4(3): 237-253

[4] L. Broudy, E. Brondolo, V. Coakley, Perceived Ethnic Discrimination in Relation to Daily Moods and Negative Social Interactions, J of Behavioral Medicine, 2007; 30 (1)

Xeno said...

Sounds like several factors must be present for a person to win the free voices.