A research review published in Frontiers in Ageing Neuroscience claims that the herpes virus responsible for cold sores can also cause Alzheimer’s disease, and that antiviral drugs can drastically reduce dementia risk for people with severe herpes infections.
The paper highlights existing studies that suggest people who have the herpes virus infection may be more likely to develop dementia, but due to the nature of the research it does not show a cause and effect relationship between herpes and dementia.
Herpes virus is extremely common and estimates are that more than 9 in 10 people have been exposed to the virus by older life, even if many have never had the annoying tell-tale signs. Far more people will have had herpes virus and don’t develop dementia than ever will.
The causes of dementia are incredibly complex and in most cases it’s not possible to pinpoint a single factor that led to the disease – but there are many things that people can do to reduce their dementia risk, such as eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, not smoking, not drinking excessively and managing their blood pressure.
Dr James Pickett, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Society, said:
‘Herpes is a hot topic in dementia research, as the infection appears to be more common in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s compared to healthy brains – but we don’t yet know enough about the relationship between the two.
‘The link between herpes and dementia isn’t something that we feel people should worry about, although it’s sensible general advice to seek treatment for persistent cold sores. Dementia is not contagious and shouldn’t be thought of as an infectious disease.
‘More research is needed to find out whether antiviral drugs can reduce dementia risk. Someone in the UK develops dementia every three minutes, and our scientists at the UK Dementia Research Institute are working hard to understand why, so that we can find ways to beat it.’