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Fighting parasitic infection inadvertently unleashes dormant virus

Signals from the immune system that help repel a common parasite inadvertently can cause a dormant viral infection to become active again, a new study shows.

Further research is necessary to understand the clinical significance of the finding, but researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis said the study helps illustrate how complex interactions between infectious agents and the immune system have the potential to affect illness.

The results appear online June 26 in Science Express.

The scientists identified specific signals in mice that mobilize the immune system to fight tapeworms, roundworms and other helminths, parasites that infect nearly a quarter of all humans. The same signals cause an inactive herpes virus infection in the mice to begin replicating again.

The researchers speculated that the virus might be taking advantage of the host response to the worm infection, multiplying and spreading when the immune system's attention is fixed on fighting the worms.

"The fact that the virus can 'sense' the immune reaction to a worm and respond by reactivating is a remarkable example of co-evolution," said senior author Herbert W. Virgin IV, MD, PhD. "We think other interactions between multiple infectious agents and the immune system will be discovered over time that we will view as similarly sophisticated or maybe even devious. Understanding these interactions will help us survive in a complex microbial world."

Viral infections typically begin with a battle with the host's immune system. That clash may eliminate many copies of the virus, but some can survive and hide in the nucleus of long-lived host cells without replicating, entering a phase known as latency.

Scientists have observed several examples of latent viral infections, such as tuberculosis, becoming active again after parasitic infections, such as malaria. The new study is the first to show that this r

Contact: Michael C. Purdy
Washington University School of Medicine

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