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Cognitive problems linked to cold sore virus

New research out of Columbia University suggests that herpes viruses may be tied to poor cognition. Different viruses in the herpes family are responsible for infections like cold sores and genital herpes, as well as chickenpox.


The theory was brought to light by a recent study conducted in northern Manhattan. According to researchers, study participants who showed elevated levels of herpes antibodies in their blood were more likely to demonstrate problems with cognition. Thinking and memory skills were at the center of the study, which tested over 1,600 people with an average age of 69.

After screening them for a variety of herpes antibodies, researchers reported that those who had higher infection levels were 25 percent more likely to receive low scores on common cognition tests. Investigators also noted that poor cognition did not appear to continue worsening as time went on.

“We found no evidence that there was a continuous decline in cognition over time,” said Dr. Mitchell S. V. Elkind, associate professor of neurology and epidemiology at Columbia.

“Previous studies have shown that vascular disease can also be a cause of dementia and lower cognition,” he added.

Elkind and his team found that women in the study, particularly those with no health insurance and with lower levels of education, were at the greatest risk. Additionally, lack of exercise played a role. According to investigators, exercise and childhood vaccines could potentially reduce the risk of developing memory problems later in life.


By Marianne Hayes