CATCHING a cold sore could increase your risk of developing a debilitating and deadly disease in later life, experts have warned.
The unpleasant blister-like spots, which are often caught through kissing, are caused by a virus which lies dormant in the skin forever.
For someone who has the virus, the blisters can pop up anywhere on the face at any point in their life.
Researchers have discovered a major link between the cold sore virus, otherwise known as herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), and cognitive decline.
They said there is “growing evidence” that suggests the common virus is involved in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease, which causes progressive decline of the brain, affects millions of people all over the world and is one of the leading cause of death globally.
The 30-year research project, where Professor Ruth Itzhaki and her team have been investigating the viral link to Alzheimer’s disease, found that HSV-1 is present in the brain of numerous older people.
The researchers from Oxford’s Institute of Population Aging, Tufts University in the US and the University of Manchester found that these adults had more abnormal tau proteins in their brains than adults who didn’t have the virus.
Tau proteins are microtubes which transport nutrients from one part of the brain to another.
Abnormal or misshapen tau proteins cannot do their job properly meaning parts of the brain are starved of vital nutrients.
Having too many any misshapen tau proteins is thought be a driver of Alzheimer’s disease.
The scientists believe that the more cold sore flare ups a person has, the more abnormal tau proteins are likely to develop – and so their risk if Alzheimer’s could be higher.
The research, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease also found that the virus associated with chickenpox and shingles, named varicella zoster virus (VZV), can increase the likelihood of Alzheimer’s in later life.
Although VZV does not directly cause Alzheimer’s, much like HSV-1 is thought to, the chickenpox virus can reactivate dormant HSV-1 which can developing someone’s chances of Alzheimer’s, researchers said.
Professor Itzhaki, visiting professorial fellow at the Oxford Institute of Population Aging, said: “This striking result appears to confirm that, in humans, infections such as VZV can cause an increase in inflammation in the brain, which can reactivate HSV-1 dormant.
“The damage in the brain by repeated infections over a lifetime would lead eventually to the development of Alzheimer’s or dementia,” she said.
“This would mean vaccines could play a greater role than just protecting against a single disease, because they could also indirectly, by reducing infections, provide some protection against Alzheimer’s,” she added.
What is the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s?
Dementia is an umbrella term, used to describe the deterioration of a person’s mental ability.
There are many different types of the debilitating conditions – one of the most common forms is Alzheimer’s.
It accounts for 60-80 per cent of dementia cases, which is why the names may sometimes be used interchangeably.
What are the main symptoms of dementia?
Dementia symptoms vary depending on the cause. But common signs and symptoms include:
- memory loss, which is usually noticed by a spouse or someone else
- confusion and disorientation, such as not knowing the place or time
- communicating or finding words
- following a conversation
- with visual and spatial abilities, such as getting lost while driving
- reasoning or problem-solving
- handling complex tasks
- planning and organizing
- with coordination and motor functions
- personality changes
- inappropriate behavior
The symptoms specific to Alzheimer’s disease include:
- memory problems, such as regularly forgetting recent events, names and faces
- asking questions repetitively
- Increasing difficulties with tasks and activities that require organization and planning
- becoming confused in unfamiliar environments
- difficulty finding the right words
- difficulty with numbers and/or handling money in shops
- becoming more withdrawn or anxious
Research, published last month, has found that eating a lot of a certain fruit could help stave off dementia.
Strawberries, the nation’s most loved fruit, have been found to protect the brain from dementia by reducing inflammation.
Meanwhile, a study last month found that regular exercise and every day habits, such as published household chores, and visiting family and friends, are good ways to reduce your risk of dementia.
These results followed other conclusions from another study that ultra-processed foods can significantly increase your risk of having dementia.