At Least Six Were Affected: Truckee Teachers Recount “Malady”
By Barbara Barte
Irene Baker, one of about a dozen local teachers who have been diagnosed as having chronic mononucleosis, is exasperated with doctors who dispute the findings of the two Incline Village doctors who have diagnosed 90 local cases.
“I know that I’m sick and I think it’s more than coincidence that five teachers who share the same prep period have the same symptoms,” Baker said Tuesday.
She spent most of the summer in bed and has not been able to return to her teaching job at Tahoe-Truckee High School this year.
Her daughter, Laura, was also sick but has gotten better, she said.
Baker said at least six other Truckee teachers — Andy Antonucci, Gerry and Janice Kennedy, Karen and Michael Cosgriff, and Jan Showalter — have similar symptoms and the same diagnosis, as do three North Tahoe High School teachers.
Symptoms are “fatigue and killer headaches, sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, pain in the spleen area and the inability to stand up for more than a short period of time,” she said.
While she has all the above symptoms and most share the fatigue and bad headaches, not all have the other symptoms.
Most were sick all summer, some have returned to teaching full- or only half-time, and some are still not able to work.
“Eventually, everyone ended up at Peterson and Cheney’s office,” she said, referring to Incline Village doctors Daniel Peterson and Paul Cheney, who have been criticized by other doctors for their chronic-mono diagnoses.
“I don’t think Peterson and Cheney are off-base,” said Baker, “and what bothers me is that these doctors who are being so critical haven’t seen patients with these symptoms, or, if they have, they haven’t listened to them.
“One teacher was told she just had an allergy, and she was so sick. Others are told they’re depressed. I had gone to Peterson and recommended him to other teachers.
“Peterson and Cheney believed we were sick. That’s why they got all these patients. All of us showed negative on a mono spot test, but not on an E-B panel.”
(See other story for a description of the controversial Epstein-Barr test )
Since becoming ill, Baker has been finding out what she can about chronic mononucleosis and has learned that there isn’t much research on the disease.
She has learned, however, that she is not alone, as someone sent her a list of 200 names from a national support group.
Since reading a paper by a Wisconsin doctor who believes he had a latent mono virus reactivated by the toner in his copy machine, she wonders if two copy machines in the teachers room could be at fault.
Cheney says that certain drugs and chemicals can cause latent mono infection to become active again. So can other illnesses, such as cancer and rheumatoid arthritis.
In fact, he says, the tiredness associated with these diseases my be due to reactivated mono.
“Phorbol esters used in copy machine toner, the tung oil in many furniture polishes and in certain glues and varnishes and even in some houseplants may reactivate the mono virus that is latent in 90-percent of adults,” says Cheney.
While this may be the cause of a few local cases, however, he says he is more inclined to believe a reactivation was triggered by another virus last winter.
“I wouldn’t want people to go around unplugging their copy machines,” he says. “If it is a common chemical, how come it caused problems this year and not last year? It was more likely a virus.”
If reactivation is caused by a chemical, he said, “a lot would depend on the concentration, ventilation, and a lot of other variables.”
Cheney agrees with Dr Gary Holmes, a viral-disease researcher from the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta who is investigating the Tahoe-Truckee cases, that chronic mono is not easily transmitted from person to person.
“Ninety percent of all adults are immune to it because we already have the latent virus,” says Cheney, “but I believe that something happened last winter to reactivate the virus in many people.”
He says that, because the virus that causes mono is a member of the same family as the herpes virus, a mono treatment is being studied using a new drug for herpes.
“Results are still pending but may be in by mid-winter,” says Cheney.
Although the CDC researcher who investigated Cheney and Peterson’s findings says he doesn’t believe there is an outbreak of chronic mono in the area (see story) and other local doctors also dispute the claims,
Cheney says he is convinced at least 90 local people had a mono virus reactivated last winter.
He has seen no new cases since late summer and says “This thing has a beginning, a middle, and an end.”
Irene Baker and some other locals are still waiting for an end to their illness, though.
“It’s all I can do to go to the doctor, maybe stop at the store, and get back to bed.” she said Tuesday. “I just talked to Karen Cosgriff (who is back teaching half-time) and she was going to go lie down.”
Copyright 1985, Tahoe World