Emerging research suggests the virus that causes cold sores, along with other viral or bacterial infections, may be associated with cognitive problems.
A new study found that people who have had higher levels of infection in their blood were more likely to have cognitive problems than people with lower levels of infection in the blood.
High blood antibody levels means an individual has been exposed over several years to various pathogens such as the herpes simplex type 1 virus that causes cold sores.
“We found the link was greater among women, those with lower levels of education and Medicaid or no health insurance, and most prominently, in people who do not exercise,” said author Mira Katan, M.D.
The study is published in the print issue of Neurology.
For the study, researchers tested thinking and memory in 1,625 people with an average age of 69 from northern Manhattan in New York.
Participants gave blood samples that were tested for five common low grade infections: three viruses (herpes simplex type 1 (oral) and type 2 (genital), and cytomegalovirus), chlamydia pneumoniae (a common respiratory infection) and Helicobacter pylori (a bacteria found in the stomach).
The results showed that the people who had higher levels of infection had a 25 percent increase in the risk of a low score on a common test of cognition called the Mini-Mental State Examination.
The memory and thinking skills were tested every year for an average of eight years. From this, researchers discovered infection was not associated with changes in memory and thinking abilities over time.
“While this association needs to be further studied, the results could lead to ways to identify people at risk of cognitive impairment and eventually lower that risk,” said Katan.
“For example, exercise and childhood vaccinations against viruses could decrease the risk for memory problems later in life.”