Sierra Sun – March 6, 1986


Doctors Admit to Mystery of Malady.

No new answers were revealed concerning the so-called Tahoe malady during a February 27 panel discussion at Sierra Nevada College, Incline Village.

Drs. Paul Cheney and Anthony Komaroff presented a synopsis of the disease and the results of the week-long studies by three doctors from Harvard University.

Komaroff and his colleagues, Drs. Dedra Buchwald and Nick Fiebach, spent the past week in Incline Village poring over patients files in an attempt to locate correlating factors.

What has been most noticeable about the disease is that it seems to occur within certain circles of people, although many individuals have it who do not associate with other people affected by it.

The clusters have been detected in two groups of teachers, one group from Tahoe- Truckee High school and the other from North Tahoe High School, a local girls basketball team; and a group of Hyatt casino employees.

Cheney said that the people contracted the disease at least a year ago, and that no new clusters have been found.

For whatever reasons Incline High School has been relatively unaffected by it; there have been few complaints from the teachers there.

Cheney said he thinks reasons Incline Village High has not been affected as much as the other schools are its circulating air system, large windows and overall good ventilation and airiness, as compared to internal circulation. The conditions of the buildings with poor ventilation is referred to by the doctors as the sick building syndrome.

Although no one can confirm why some contract the Epstein-Barr virus and others don’t, the doctors agree on a few points.

First, they believe it is not really a new disease but one reactivated after lying dormant for years. Both believe that 90 per cent of all people come in contact with this disease at some point of their lives, usually before the age of 10.

When the virus is first contracted it may or may not affect a person. The effects could show up as acute mononucleosis or a cold or remain latent for the duration.

The biggest question facing the doctors is what reactivates the disease.

Komaroff said the thinks the activator is some other virus that has passed through a community of people.

Other possibilities mentioned include household items such as tung oil,which is used in a variety of glues and varnishes, and certain foods such as vinegar from China that has been contaminated with tung oil.

Basically, both doctors believe another virus triggers the EBV and environmental conditions may only amplify the situation rather than cause it.

As far as the degree of contagion is concerned, although it is contagious in some capacity, Cheney said he didn’t think it was highly communicable or otherwise he would have it by now.

Despite the length of the illness and the despair that goes with being ill for a long period, there seems to be some hope. Very few new cases have been recorded in Dr Cheney’s and Dr Dan Peterson’s offices. And some people seem to have recovered from it, although, as Komaroff warned, it might seem to have gone away and then come back again.

Both doctors agreed that the best way to treat the disease is to keep an optimistic attitude in spite of its antagonistic nature, and that those who have tended to be overstressed and therefore ill should pace themselves better.

Although no one can safely say that a typical patient exists, Komaroff said, most of the patients are women between 25 and 40, have been athletic or in good health in the past, and seem to be in higher economic standing.

But the Tahoe malady doesn’t seem to follow this pattern, as the highest number of people affected by it have been the basketball team, teachers and casino workers.

Cheney said that the degree of infection is much higher that the number of people sick with it because the spread of it appears to but the spread of it appears to be over.

“The threat to public health has been diminished to almost near zero.” Cheney said during a telephone interview later.

Cheney said that through the three types of tests that have been conducted there is strong evidence of the presence of Epstein-Barr virus. The EBV infection is not necessarily mono itself, although it can be a contributor to the common strain of mononucleosis.

“The question of this virus is the primary problem or the secondary problem.” Cheney said.

“If it’s primary then maybe it’s because it’s a new strain. If it’s secondary the maybe we can find out what the primary problem is.” he said. “If it’s secondary we have to be more cautious. That’s why Dr. Komaroff is here.”

Cheney said the tests used to detect the Epstein-Barr virus include sample tissues of patients and serologies. Also a new test has found antibodies that are directed toward EBV in a patients blood.

Komaroff and his colleagues returned to Boston this week with samples, which they intend to study using the new test. Their findings will be released in a few months.

Until then all doctors involved will be searching for the answer to whether the EBV is a new virus or a reactivated virus, yet Cheney believes the patients who already have the disease are not facing any new complications.

Copyright 1986, Sierra Sun