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Cold sore virus increases dementia risk

Monday 20th October 2014
Written by Martin Lambert
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Researchers at the Umea University, Sweden, have published two new studies that claim that the herpes simplex virus increases a person's chance of developing Alzheimer's disease.

Published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia, the results shows that there is a definite link between the infection of the herpes virus and the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, according to Dr Hugo Lövheim, associate professor at the Department of Community Medicine and Rehabilitation, Geriatric Medicine, Umea University, and one of the study's researchers.

He said this means there is the opportunity to develop treatments to stop the virus and inhibit the disease, while the study highlights the importance of maintaining infection control procedures.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia, with recent studies suggesting that there could be a connection between the herpes virus and the disease.  The majority of people carry the virus, which stays in the body permanently after the initial infection, and can be reactivated to trigger a mouth ulcer. However, the hypothesis is that a weakened immune system in elderly people allows the virus to spread to the brain, resulting in dementia.

The new report has now confirmed this link through two large epidemiological studies. In one study, which is based on the Betula project, a study on ageing, memory and dementia, the researchers show that a reactivated herpes infection doubled the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. With more than 3,400 participants, the research followed them for 11.3 years on average. 

A separate study took 360 samples donated to the university from people with Alzheimer's disease, which were then analysed. The samples were taken on average 9.6 years before diagnosis. This findings showed an approximately doubled risk of developing Alzheimer's disease if the person was a carrier of the herpes virus.

"Something which makes this hypothesis very interesting is that now herpes infection can in principle be treated with antiviral agents. Therefore within a few years we hope to be able to start studies in which we will also try treating patients to prevent the development of Alzheimer's disease," sayid Dr  Lövheim.

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