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Cognitive decline, cold sores linked

December 16, 2013
by Lois A. Bowers, Senior Editor
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Another reason to try to avoid getting a cold: The same virus that causes cold sores has been associated with cognitive decline by public health researchers at the University of Michigan (U-M), and the effects are noticeable even in childhood. Another scary fact? More than one-third of those living in the United States have the virus by early childhood, and many of them may not even know it because they don’t have symptoms.

The researchers’ findings, published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, show that herpes simplex virus type I is associated with lower reading and spatial reasoning test scores among children aged 12 to 16 years. Middle-aged adults saw changes in their coding speed, which is a measure of visual motor speed and attention, and older adults experienced immediate memory impairment.

Another latent herpes virus, cytomegalovirus (CMV), was associated with coding speed, learning and recall impairment in middle-aged adults. CMV also is prevalent in the population and can be asymptomatic.

“Once acquired, herpes viruses are never cleared from the body and instead persist in a latent state,” says corresponding author Amanda M. Simanek, PhD, MPH, formerly an assistant research scientist in the U-M Department of Epidemiology and now an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin‒Milwaukee. “Such pathogens are, however, subject to reactivation and capable of invading the central nervous system, where they may exert direct damage to the brain.”

Reducing stress is one way to lessen the likelihood of virus reactivation, says another author of the study, Allison E. Aiello, PhD, MS, a U-M associate professor of epidemiology. In the future, antiviral medications or vaccines may be developed to target the viruses and their effects, she adds.

See other content by this author here.


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