Thursday, July 11, 2019

Epstein, Barr, and the Treatment of Civic Fatigue Syndrome

Bonnie Honig 
Brown University
Sara Rushing
Montana State University

In 1964, British scientists discovered the first virus known to directly cause cancer in humans. The virus is a nearly universal “pre-existing condition,” affecting 90% of the world’s adult population. In the industrialized West it rarely causes cancer, appearing more commonly as mononucleosis, which causes exhaustion, sore throat, stiffness, pain, and fever. In healthy bodies, people carry the virus but typically don’t get sick. In weak bodies, the effects can be devastating and recurrent.

The virus is called “Epstein-Barr.” This week, the American body politic, weakened by two years of exposure to swampy conditions, malignant misogyny, and rank corruption, has contracted a new strain of it, a bad case of Epstein Barr.
   At the Simply Health website, the Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) is said to “often lie dormant.” It might be hidden for years in New York City mansions, Florida golf resorts, or offshore islands, for example. But “when your immune system weakens, whether it is because of stress, or another illness,” or the Republican Party, “the EBV can break free and multiply,” and suddenly it seems to be everywhere, operating out in the open.
   “Given how common the infection is, it’s better to have a good understanding of the symptoms …to protect yourself and keep everything under control. As you [or your democracy] age and your immune system gets weaker, the possibility of an EBV outbreak increases.” The website doesn’t give a specific age but 250 years old, give or take, feels about right.
    The problem is, diagnosis is difficult since “EBV causes many symptoms that are commonly shared with other illnesses.” For example, what looks like voter apathy may turn out to be gerrymandering. What look like free markets may turn out to be oligarchical power structures. What looks like sex with underage women might turn out to be child rape. And what look like concentration camps on your border… might turn out to be concentration camps on your border.

Simply Health makes clear that “prolonged fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of EBV reactivation…If you feel like you have been leading a rather healthy lifestyle with a selective diet, but you just feel tired and low energy all the time for no apparent reason,” or because you are constantly watching the news, checking Twitter, going to marches, donating to candidates, texting to mobilize voters, doing public writing, while still trying to live your life, raise your kids, and do your job, then . . . Simply Health advises helpfully: “it’s time to look into the root cause of the problem.”

Worryingly, many Americans may recognize the symptoms: “You will not be able to function properly when it hits you, because of the low energy level you have. You may try different medication,” if you can afford one, “but nothing seems to work. If you have gone to the doctor, and he still doesn’t know the real cause of the issue, ask him about the possibility of an EBV test” (but first, ask her if your insurance will cover the test). Could it be Epstein-Barr? Or (GULP) is it: Epstein Barr?

Whether Epstein-Barr or Epstein Barr, you may suffer the sore throat that Simply Health lists as the next symptom. Yes, it’s hard to swallow. It may be from mono, but perhaps it’s from yelling at the news as it flies out of your TV, radio, or laptop assaulting you with the latest obscenities. The sore throat, says Simply Health, is a sign “that your immune system is being attacked.” The antibodies that once protected you from the virus are no longer up to the task: judicial institutions, the rule of law, Congress, most of the watchdog media, and others that you normally count on to preserve your system’s health have let the virus re-activate and now you are its unwitting host.

Although Simply Health instructs those infected to “avoid crowded places” so as not to spread contagion, this is actually truer for the Epstein-Barr virus than for the Epstein Barr variety, which is its own strain. Without the hyphen (and really, isn’t that the aim of Make America Great Again: to de-hyphenate America?), Epstein Barr is in fact best combatted by seeking out crowds and mobilizing people so as to infect them with your contagious horror at what is happening and with your equally contagious enthusiasm for what we could achieve together were we to find our common ground. You’ll want to take to your bed, yes. But that feeling in your stomach is telling you something. Listen to it.

Simply Health suggests that “If you work or live in a stressful environment, try to find ways to change it so you can live stress-free.” Analgesics and anti-depressants will only get you so far. You will need to address the enabling conditions that let the virus reactivate and flourish. Real change is the only solution.

While we do the hard work of (re-)democratizing the U.S., maybe we can also entertain ourselves by naming diseases afterallthe wrongdoers. Here is one: Acostitis – a strange syndrome in which, though you are burning with fever, no thermometer can record your temperature. Early detection is especially key for this one, but a 10+ year lag is often suffered by patients (by which we mean victims). Or McConnellopathy, also known as swamp-foot, known for attacking the brain by way of the neck.
    Laughter may be the best medicine, but it is most effective when taken with a large dose of collective action. So ask your doctor if democracy might be right for you.



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