Herpes may be associated with memory loss in old age

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Reviewed by Lisa Oldson, MD Apr. 11, 2011

Individuals who suffer from herpes, particularly those whose infections are left untreated, may be more likely to experience cognitive decline as they age, according to a recent study published in the journal PLoS ONE.

The scientists explained that the virus affects cellular proteins that have previously been shown to cause senile plaques found among Alzheimer's patients.

"Herpes infects mucous membranes, such as the lip or eye, and generates viral particles. These burst out of the cells of the mucous membrane and enter sensory nerve cells where they travel inside the nerve toward the brain," lead study author Elaine Bearer said.

Although there is no cure for the disease, the researchers recommend that infected individuals seek treatment to reduce the frequency of their outbreaks and minimize the amount of time that their nervous systems are exposed to the active virus.

The infection can be spread through unprotected sexual contact and may cause sores on an individual's mouth or genitals, although many people who have the virus do not show symptoms.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 16 percent of Americans between the ages of 14 and 49 have herpes.

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