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PLoS One. 2017 Oct 18;12(10):e0185608. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0185608. eCollection 2017.

The association between herpes virus infections and functional somatic symptoms in a general population of adolescents. The TRAILS study.

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University of Groningen, University Medical Center Groningen, Department of Psychiatry, Interdisciplinary Center for Psychopathology and Emotion Regulation (ICPE), Groningen, The Netherlands.
Department of Internal Medicine, University of Groningen, University Medical Centre Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands.



FSS have been suggested to follow activation of the immune system, triggered by herpes virus infections. The aim of this study was to find out whether herpes virus infections were associated with the experience of FSS in adolescents, and whether this association was mediated by hsCRP, as a general marker of immune activation.


This study was performed in TRAILS, a large prospective population cohort of 2230 adolescents (mean age: 16.1 years, SD = .66, 53.4% girls). FSS were assessed using the somatic complaints subscale of the Youth Self-Report. FSS were analyzed as total scores and divided in two group clusters based on previous studies in this cohort. Levels of hsCRP and antibody levels to the herpes viruses HSV1, HSV2, CMV, EBV and HHV6 were assessed in blood samples at age 16. Also a value for pathogen burden was created adding the number of viruses the adolescents were seropositive for. Multiple regression analysis with bootstrapping was used to analyze the association between viral antibodies and pathogen burden, hsCRP and FSS scores.


Antibody levels and pathogen burden were not associated with FSS total scores or FSS scores in both symptom groups. hsCRP was associated with the total FSS score (B = .02, 95% CI: .004 to .028, p = .01) and FSS score in the symptom group of headache and gastrointestinal complaints (B = .02, 95% CI: .001 to .039, p = .04).


Our study showed no association between herpes virus infections and FSS in general or specific FSS symptom clusters. A role for inflammatory processes in FSS development was supported by the significant association we found between hsCRP levels and FSS, especially in the symptom group of headache and gastrointestinal complaints.

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