Contracting severe influenza doubles the chances that a person will develop Parkinson’s disease later in life, according to new research.
But University of British Columbia researchers note the opposite is true for people who contracted a typical case of red measles as children: They are 35 percent less likely to develop Parkinson’s, a nervous system disorder marked by slowness of movement, shaking, stiffness, and, in the later stages, loss of balance.
The findings, by researchers at the university’s School of Population and Public Health and the Pacific Parkinson’s Research Centre, were published in the journal Movement Disorders.
They are based on interviews with 403 Parkinson’s patients and 405 healthy people in British Columbia, Canada.
Parkinson’s disease results when brain cells that make the neurotransmitter dopamine are destroyed, preventing the brain from transmitting messages to muscles. The disease typically strikes people over age 50.
Although some cases are genetic in origin, the cause for most cases is still unknown. Possible explanations include repeated head trauma or exposure to viruses or chemical compounds, researchers said.
Lead researcher Anne Harris also examined whether occupational exposure to vibrations — such as operating construction equipment — had any effect on the risk of Parkinson’s.
In another study, published online this month by the American Journal of Epidemiology, she and her collaborators reported that occupational exposure actually decreased the risk of developing the disease by 33 percent, compared to people whose jobs involved no exposure.
Meanwhile, she found that those exposed to high-intensity vibrations from driving snowmobiles, tanks or high-speed boats had a consistently higher risk of developing Parkinson’s than people whose jobs involved lower-intensity vibrations (for example, operating road vehicles).
The elevated risk fell short of the statistical significance typically used to establish a correlation, but was strong and consistent enough to suggest an avenue for further study, Harris said.
“There are no cures or prevention programs for Parkinson’s, in part because we still don’t understand what triggers it in some people and not others,” said Harris. “This kind of painstaking epidemiological detective work is crucial in identifying the mechanisms that might be at work, allowing the development of effective prevention strategies.”
Source: University of British Columbia