Do you often have cold sores? Studies have shown that this virus can double the risk of dementia

Photo: Andrew Angelov / Alamy / Alamy / Profimedia

According to one study in Sweden, people infected with the herpes simplex virus type 1 have twice the risk of developing dementia.

Approximately 80 percent of the adult population in Sweden have antibodies to this virus, whether they are aware of it or not, meaning that their immune system has been exposed to the pathogen at some point.

Many people show no symptoms when infected, while others occasionally develop skin inflammation, i.e. irritating "bubbles" on the mouth or nose. Whether this lifelong infection flares up externally or is latent, it appears that it may have insidious effects on our cognitive abilities, writes "Science Alert".

Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia and is often, but not always, accompanied by abnormal protein deposits in the brain. For years, scientists have been developing drugs that prevent the formation of these clusters, but so far they have failed to significantly reduce the decline in cognitive functions.

Therefore, scientists wondered if these clusters are really the main culprits in the development of Alzheimer's disease or if they form in the brain for some other reason. Perhaps, for example, they have some role in the immune response of the central nervous system; such as repairing damage or preventing the penetration of pathogens.

Thus, scientists came to the assumption that some types of Alzheimer's disease actually arose after a defensive reaction to foreign microbes.

During the 1990s, abnormal levels of herpes simplex type 1 DNA were first detected in patients who had died of Alzheimer's disease. Then, in 2008, scientists discovered that 90 percent of the protein deposits in postmortem brains of Alzheimer's patients contained the DNA of this virus.

Findings are beginning to indicate that the immune response to the herpes virus is linked to cognitive decline. Therefore, scientists from Uppsala University and Umea University in Sweden decided to follow the health of 1.002 participants aged 70 years for a period of 15 years.

They assessed the participants when they were 70 years old, and then at 75, 80 and 85. 82 percent of subjects had herpes simplex antibodies, and the study found that they were twice as likely to develop dementia compared to those without the antibodies.

Swedish scientists believe that as many studies as possible should be done to investigate whether herpes treatment can prevent or stop the onset of dementia.

"The results of these studies could be a big step forward towards treating dementia in the early stages using common herpes virus drugs or preventing the disease before it occurs," said Erika Westin, an epidemiologist at Uppsala University.

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