Borna to be Wild
Can mental illness be caused by viruses?
Your neighbor occasionally shows up on your porch wearing nothing but roller skates and claims to be a pull-toy. Okay, he's bonkers. But he might actually have a virus that makes him do nutty things. Scientists in Germany recently isolated the human strain of the Borna virus, a bug long known to cause farm animals and house pets to act strangely.
"As many as 30 percent of people with schizophrenia, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorders show evidence of infection with the Borna virus," says R. Michael Hendry of the California Department of Health Services in Berkeley, "It's possible that the virus is responsible for mental illness." Researchers have found the Borna virus antibodies in both healthy and mentally ill people for the past 90 years, but these chemical footprints leave few clues about the virus. "Now that we've isolated the human strain, we'll possibly be able to more accurately screen for it, treat it, and even devise a vaccine in the future," says Hendry.