Viruses: Life Saving Information You Must Know
Viruses cause many diseases and continue to be a threat to modern societies. Viruses are very basic, simple microorganisms and are just packets of genes (either DNA or RNA) surrounded by a protective shell. Since the dramatic arrival of the novel coronavirus named SARS- CoV-2 in November 2019, viruses have become foremost in our mind. There are many dangerous viruses lurking around us all the time and SARS-CoV-2 will not be the last new virus to invade our environment.
There are over 250 virus species that are known to infect humans and cause disease. There is still a significant population of undiscovered human virus species and new species continue to evolve. New viruses come from existing viruses that change their genes and this process is called mutation. New viruses can also be genetically engineered in a laboratory. We need to become more aware of community and personal hygiene to reduce our exposure to SARS-CoV-2, and indeed to other potentially dangerous microorganisms lurking in our environment.
Of the viruses that have infected the human population in recent decades, the majority have been RNA viruses, including HIV, Ebola, SARS, MERS, Zika, several influenza viruses and SARS-CoV-2. Many human viruses have mammalian or avian origins.
There are probably many viral species on the planet that we are currently unaware of. With the overcrowding of the planet, global warming, rapid international air travel, disturbance of ecosystems, and widespread malnutrition, it is highly likely that we are in the midst of a period of rapid, new virus emergence. We should anticipate the identification of more novel human viruses in the coming years. Some of these viruses will be dangerous and some will not be. It is a game of chance and the mutation of viral genes is unpredictable.
- For a list of viruses that infect humans visit https://viralzone.expasy.org/678
When a virus has infected a suitable host cell, it replicates itself within the cell thousands of times. Viruses do not divide and reproduce, but replicate their genes (RNA or DNA) and protein coats inside the host cell.
When our body first encounters a new virus, the virus must get past our physical barriers of skin and mucus membranes so that it can then invade one of our body’s cells. Once inside this cell, the virus takes control and directs the cell to make many copies of the virus. This uses the cell’s energy, damages the cell, and may even kill the cell. The newly-made viruses are released from the initially-infected cell so that they can find new cells in which to replicate. Once many cells are full of new viruses, we will get symptoms and signs of an infection.
In the mid-1970s and early 1980s, we had to battle the arrival of Ebola virus and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
In 2003, we faced a new coronavirus called SARS-CoV, which was thought to have originated in animals (likely bats) and jumped to humans. The SARS-CoV virus caused severe acute respiratory syndrome and the World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated the overall fatality rate for SARS patients at approximately 15 percent, and over 50 percent in people older than 64. Despite huge efforts, we still do not have an effective, safe vaccine against the SARS-CoV virus.
"In late 2019, we were challenged with another new coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2 which probably came from wet markets in Wuhan, China; although there are some well-respected scientists who think it escaped from a laboratory in China. SARS-CoV-2 quickly caused a global pandemic and caught an unprepared world by surprise.”
Our immune system does not recognize these new coronaviruses because they come from animals or a laboratory and are totally foreign to humans. They are stealth viruses to which we have no acquired immunity. Vaccines are only partially effective, and drugs are only able to partially treat the symptoms. These developments have shown us that an unprepared world is at the mercy of microorganisms.
Viruses are spreading more rapidly as seen by the international out break of monkeypox in May 2022. Previously cases of monkeypox had been seen only in people with links to central and west Africa where it is endemic. The monkeypox virus jumps from an animal to a human and then human to human transmission can occur through direct contact with respiratory droplets, bodily fluids or skin lesions. We do have an effective vaccine and drugs against monkeypox infection.
Viruses are everywhere
All humans and animals are full of a diverse range of viruses and the longer we live, the more viruses we collect in our body. The total collection of viruses inside and on the human body is called the human virome. An individual’s virome changes constantly, just like our bacterial microbiome does.
The study of the human virome lags way behind the study of bacteria, because it took scientists much longer to recognize its presence.
Guesstimates are that there are over 380 trillion viruses in the human virome. The human virome is only partially understood, and although we know that there are approximately 40 trillion bacteria in an average human, the size of the virome is still a guessing game. The vast majority of these viruses are harmless and do not cause disease. The viruses present in our body infect our human cells and also some of the microorganisms, such as bacteria and fungi present in our body.
The viruses in your virome that infect the bacteria that live inside you are known as bacteriophages, or phages for short. The human body is full of phages, but we still do not know what all these phages are doing. Whilst most of the viruses present in our body do not cause disease, others can be very dangerous, especially if we have no immunity against them, or they are present in excess numbers. Scary as it may be, some viruses are able to invade and change our human genome (DNA) and are then known as proviruses.
"Our unique virome is influenced by our diet and lifestyle, our pets that share our space, nutrient deficiencies, our body weight, seasonal changes, coexisting infections, our immune health, our vaccination history, and our age.”
I am surmising that if we are deficient in the mineral selenium, it is probable that we will have more active viruses in our body, although no one has studied the effect of essential nutritional minerals on the total body virome.
Viruses can infect and damage most parts of the body including:
- the brain and the nerves
- the liver
- the kidneys
- the intestines
- the lungs
- the mucus membranes
- the immune system
- the skin
- the eyes
Viruses can infect your immune system with the classic example being the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). HIV attacks white blood cells that help your body to fight infection so you cannot resist other infections.
Viruses are a common cause of cancer
Viruses that can cause cancer are called oncoviruses.
The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is a herpes virus that causes glandular fever and is spread through saliva. Infection with the EBV may increase the risk of the following cancers: Burkitt lymphoma, some types of Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and stomach cancer.
The human papillomavirus (HPV), of which there are over 150 different strains, can cause cancer. HPV is the most common sexually- transmitted infection in the United States.
Some strains of HPV can cause precancerous lesions, and HPV infection causes nearly all cancers of the cervix. HPV can cause cancer of the mouth, tongue, and the oropharynx. HPV can less commonly cause anal cancer, vulvar and vaginal cancers in women, and penile cancer in men.
The hepatitis B and hepatitis C viruses are a common cause of liver cancer. The hepatitis B virus (HBV) is 50 to 100 times easier to
transmit sexually than HIV (the virus that causes AIDS). Individuals chronically infected with the HBV have a 25 to 40 percent increased lifetime risk of getting liver cancer. We have an effective vaccine to protect against the HBV, and it is routinely given to newborns.
In the United States, chronic infection with the hepatitis C virus is the leading cause of liver cancer.
We have drugs, such as Maviret, that has a 98 percent cure rate for all genotypes of the hepatitis C virus, and it only needs to be taken for 8 weeks. Unfortunately, many people with hepatitis C virus infection remain undiagnosed and develop severe liver disease or liver cancer, which could be prevented.
A retrovirus is a virus whose genome is made of RNA and not DNA, but can turn its RNA into DNA. The retroviral DNA can then integrate into the chromosomal DNA of the infected host cell. Once the retrovirus integrates its DNA into the host cell’s DNA, it can take control of the cell and direct the cell to make many copies of itself.
Retroviruses are considered very harmful, which is not surprising as they insert themselves into our human DNA genome and take control of it, which is profoundly disturbing to think about. Retroviruses infect animals and humans, and cause a range of diseases including cancer, autoimmune diseases, immunodeficiency syndromes, and anemias. The most infamous retrovirus is the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which if untreated, leads to acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). Two other dangerous retroviruses are human
T-lymphotropic virus type 1 (HTLV-1) and human T-lymphotropic virus type 2 (HTLV-II). HTLV-1 is also known by the name of human T-cell leukemia type 1 and is a virus cancer link for leukemia. It is estimated that around 1 in 20 people who are infected with HTLV-1 will develop a form of fatal leukemia. Central Australia has the world’s highest rate of infection of the HTLV- 1 virus.
HTLV-1 usually causes disease later in life and is spread by sexual activity, breastfeeding, and blood transfusions. There are no vaccines or effective drugs, and screening of blood banks is not universal in all countries. HTLV-1 causes adult T-cell leukemia/ lymphoma and severe neurological diseases and a very damaged immune system. HTLV-1 can be prevented with safe sex and condoms.
An infection with HIV cannot be cured, but it does not progress to AIDS in all people. The use of drugs called antiretroviral therapy treatment (ART) enables many people to have a normal life expectancy with HIV infection. HIV is hard to KILL because it usually infects the very cells (CD4 lymphocyte white blood cells) designed to destroy it.
Pre-exposure prophylaxis (known as PrEP) involves taking just one tablet daily to prevent HIV in people at high risk of HIV infection. When taken daily, PrEP is very effective in preventing HIV from sex or injection drug use, but must be taken consistently or it will not work.
Selenium – how it protects you against severe illness
For over 30 years, I have been researching the health benefits of the mineral selenium. I have looked at hundreds of scientific studies from all over the world, and I have treated thousands of patients with selenium supplements. Selenium is an essential micronutrient obtained through the diet and acts in the body as a cleaning up agent and antioxidant, which neutralizes toxic substances. Without antioxidants, cell damage occurs and serious disease, and even death may occur.
Selenium helps antioxidant enzymes in the body called selenoproteins, especially the body’s most powerful protector — called glutathione.
"Glutathione and selenium are continually protecting your cells”
When it comes to successfully fighting any viral infection, it is critical that you have adequate amounts of selenium inside your cells. Selenium acts on the genetic material at the center of the virus (its RNA or DNA) and this has two highly valuable effects:
- inhibits its ability to multiply
- reduces its ability to mutate into a more aggressive (virulent) form
Scientists from the University of Surrey have identified a link between the outcome of COVID-19 disease and dietary selenium.
Researchers working with influenza viruses discovered that animals deficient in selenium were more susceptible to infectious diseases. When animals with a selenium deficiency were exposed to the flu virus, the virus mutated into a far more virulent form when it was passed on to the next animal. The researchers compared the initial virus to the mutated virus, and found that the initial virus would typically cause only mild pneumonia, while the mutated virus would result in life-threatening severe pneumonia. This breakthrough showed that selenium deficiencies cause viral mutations that could turn a mild flu virus into a worldwide life-threatening flu pandemic. This should have made news headlines all over the world, but it did not. Why? Drug companies and governments focus on vaccinations and drugs and remain disinterested in selenium research. You cannot patent a natural substance like selenium.
Researchers, like Dr Gerhard Schrauzer, have for many years been accumulating evidence for the potential benefits of selenium in viral diseases, only to be widely ignored by “mainstream” clinicians. Gerhard Schrauzer, PhD, MS, FACN, CNS is internationally respected for his groundbreaking research on the biomedical aspects of essential trace elements, notably selenium, and for his work on cancer prevention. He was Professor Emeritus at the University of California, San Diego, where he served on the faculty from 1966 until his retirement in 1994. He has authored four books and more than 300 papers in peer-reviewed medical journals. His findings show selenium is not only effective for cancer prevention, but also against many viral diseases. According to Dr Gerhard Schrauzer, adequate levels of selenium (Se) are necessary for the immune T cells to function properly.
A striking example of selenoprotein genes in a virus, is provided by the highly pathogenic Zaire strain of the Ebola virus. Infection with Ebola Zaire is likely to place an unprecedented demand for Se on the host, potentially causing a more drastic Se depletion in a matter of days than HIV infection can accomplish in 10 years. A potential therapeutic role for Se is highly consistent with key aspects of Ebola pathology, including its effects on selenium-rich tissues, like blood cells and liver.
Studies have shown a highly significant protective effect of selenium supplements against liver cancer in people chronically infected with the hepatitis B virus. High rates of hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection and primary liver cancer (PLC) are present in the Qidong Province of China. Epidemiological surveys demonstrated an inverse association between selenium (Se) level and regional cancer incidence, as well as HBV infection. An intervention trial was undertaken in 130,471 people among the general population. The 8-year follow-up data showed a reduced liver cancer incidence of 35.1 percent in selenium-supplemented subjects compared to the non-supplemented subjects. On withdrawal of selenium from the treated group, liver cancer incidence rate began to increase. The study demonstrated that a continuous intake of selenium is essential to sustain the cancer- protective effect in those chronically infected with the hepatitis B virus.
Selenium (Se) has been used with considerable success by the Chinese in the palliative treatment of acute Hantaan virus infection. Hantaan virus causes hemorrhagic fever and is a zoonosis endemic in eastern Asia. In an outbreak of Hantaan virus involving 80 patients, oral sodium selenite at 2 mg (2,000 mcg) daily for 9 days was used to achieve a dramatic reduction in the overall mortality rate, which fell from 38 percent (untreated control group) to 7 percent (Se treatment group), thus giving an 80 percent reduction in mortality. This result, obtained using selenium at a dose of about 13 times the RDA as the only treatment, is all the more striking in light of the fact that, according to conventional medical science, there is no effective treatment for hemorrhagic fever (viral infections with Ebola-like symptoms). Although this did not involve Ebola virus, there are several different hemorrhagic fever viruses, and they may share common mechanisms. This example suggests that pharmacological doses of Se may also have some benefit in infections, due to other hemorrhagic fever viruses, including Ebola.
Selenium deficiency induces benign variants of RNA viruses to become virulent. When selenium- deficient, virus-infected hosts were supplemented with dietary Se, viral mutation rates diminished and immunocompetence improved.
The question of dose level used in China for acute Hantaan virus infection naturally arouses concerns, because in the past so much has been made of the potential toxicity of selenium. I believe that the danger of serious toxicity with Se supplementation has been exaggerated. The threat of serious acute toxicity with supplementation is in my opinion non-existent at doses less than 1000 mcg per day.
Also in several studies, people in certain geographical locations have been shown to be ingesting from 600 to over 700 mcg per day for extended periods of time without evidencing any ill effects — in northern Greenland, as much as 1000 mcg per day in some individuals. Thus, daily doses in the 200 to 400 mcg range are safe, especially for the several months required to selenize the cells. The term “selenize” means to get the selenium into the deeper parts of the cells, especially the nucleus of the cell, where it is protective.
In any case, the signs of chronic selenium toxicity - garlic odor of breath and sweat, metallic taste in mouth, skin rashes, headaches, brittle hair, and fingernails - are very distinctive and easily reversed by lowering the Se dose. It is well documented that selenium plays a significant role in the regulation of blood clotting and selenium has an anticlotting effect, whereas selenium deficiency has a pro-clotting effect. This is relevant, as COVID-19 can cause a severe clotting disease.
I believe that there is a sufficient body of clinical research data to support the conclusion that Se has not only anticancer benefits, but also protectant effects against a broad spectrum of viral infections. Furthermore, Se may have not only preventive, but also therapeutic potential in active viral infections — even some that can be acutely lethal — because the lifesaving benefits of a brief course of treatment with reasonable pharmacological doses (i.e. in the milligrams per day range) have been demonstrated.
Every year, new strains of the influenza virus evolve in the selenium- deficient areas of China — an ideal breeding ground for transmission of viruses from animals to humans. These viruses spread and can easily make their way to other parts of the world.
Selenium and HIV
There is compelling evidence that selenium (Se) status is a significant predictor of outcome in HIV infection, and that the relative risk for mortality is much higher in Se-deficient patients. Selenium supplementation may improve survival in HIV/AIDS patients. Studies have shown that providing adequate amounts of Se to the AIDS virus slows its replication.
One of the features of AIDS progression is a decline in the patient’s plasma selenium levels, which results in a decline in the selenium- containing antioxidant glutathione peroxide, and thus more damage to the body’s cells.
HIV infection rates are highest in geographic areas of the world where soil selenium levels are the lowest and infection rates are lowest where soil selenium levels are the highest.
I call selenium “the viral birth control pill” to describe just how important it is in helping us fight viral infections. A normally harmless or low- pathogenic virus can become far more destructive (virulent) in a person who is selenium deficient. Selenium-deficient mice infected with a mild strain (low-pathogenic strain) of influenza virus developed much more severe and protracted inflammation of their lungs, compared to selenium-replete mice infected with the same virus.
The supplement called Selenomune contains a therapeutic dose of the mineral selenium.
Selenomune contains three different forms of selenium- Selenium-methyl L-selenocysteine, sodium selenite and L-selenomethionine. Each of these different forms of selenium has its own unique health benefits. Selenium is required for the production of glutathione, which is the most powerful antioxidant in the body. The protein called n-acetyl cysteine is also required for glutathione production. Together they are a powerful combination.
Selenomune also contains other synergistic nutrients to strengthen the immune system
Children under the age of ten struggle to swallow capsules and can be given a liquid selenium formula.
The selenium content of food is directly related to how much selenium was in the soil where the food was grown, and many areas of the world have selenium-deficient soils. Normally, selenium is found in organ meats, seafood, Brazil nuts, whole grains, brewer’s yeast, garlic, kelp, molasses, onions, and medicinal mushrooms (reishi and shitake).
Selenium levels in the soil are unreliable and it is virtually impossible to obtain enough selenium through diet alone.
We must seriously consider evidence suggesting that there may be a global trend towards a decrease of Se in the food chain. Studies have shown that Se levels in the British diet have decreased by almost 50 percent over the last 22 years. If dietary Se levels have decreased so drastically over 22 years in Britain — a wealthy and highly developed nation — then what is the situation in rapidly developing Third World countries?
The selenium content of the soils in which foods grow will affect the selenium content of the foods. Fish caught in their natural habitats are usually high in selenium, but many of the fish sold for human consumption are raised in fish farms and fed pellets. For these reasons, it is not wise to rely on diet alone for your intake of selenium. If you start taking a selenium supplement, you need to take it regularly, as it takes time to overcome a deficiency.
In light of the evidence, showing that Se deficiency is associated with adverse outcomes in viral infections and can foster the emergence of more virulent viral strains, any localized or global depletion of Se in the food chain could be a significant factor contributing to our increased susceptibility to emerging viral diseases.
What are the consequences of selenium deficiency?
- Frequent colds and flu
- Increased susceptibility to infections of all types, especially from viruses
- Incurable warts
- Poor thyroid function
- Increased risk of autoimmune disease
- Increased inflammation due to glutathione deficiency
- Higher mortality rates from HIV (AIDS)
- Higher morbidity rates from chronic viral hepatitis (types B and C)
- Increased incidence of many different types of cancer
A 1998 study found patients with severe viral infections have rapidly- decreasing concentrations of selenium in their body. Almost half of a person’s selenium concentrations may disappear during such infection, which can be life threatening. This study discovered the unexpected degree to which selenium is used up, when the immune system is activated by the virus. Selenium protects the genetic material from mutations in humans, animals, and viruses. When a virus infects a human or animal lacking selenium, the virus can undergo mutations making it far more dangerous. Many viruses could become more virulent by passing through a selenium-deficient host.
Can selenium become toxic?
Some people worry about selenium being toxic, but my research and clinical experience show you would have to take more than 850 mcg daily on a long-term basis for this to occur. The Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) has set the tolerable upper level for selenium at 400 mcg daily in adults.
Selenium is very safe, as it is an essential nutrient for humans and animals; but like all nutrients, we do not need to overdose; and if you overdose on selenium, you can get side effects. The effects of selenium overdose are easily reversed by ceasing supplementation. Selenium toxicity mainly comes from exposure to very large amounts via industrial pollution and is not common.
A beneficial and safe daily dose of selenium in adults is 100 mcg to 200 mcg. Some people may need to take 200 mcg to 400 mcg daily for several months to build up the body’s stores to optimal levels and then reduce to a maintenance dose of 100 mcg to 200 mcg daily.
"What we really need now is a plan to keep our immune system healthy so that infections do not cause us severe damage or kill us”
The above statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease.