Herpes: Creeping into Everything

A fascinating look at how infectious disease can adversely impact cognitive development was recently published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases. In this study, cognitive function was studied in three age groups: children, adults aged 20-59, and older adults. The study assessed the effect that two herpes viruses (HSV-1 and CMV) had on performance. 

The study found in children that seropositivity for HSV-1 was correlated to lower reading and spatial reasoning schools. In adults aged 20-59, seropositivity to HSV-1 and CMV was correlated to impaired coding speed and seropositivity to CMV was correlated to impaired learning and recall. In older adults, seropositivity to HSV-1 was linked to impaired immediate memory.

The implications of this study are that infection with these pathogens have wide-ranging effects that can substantially alter one's functional capacity. Indeed, both of these pathogens may have roles in Alzheimer's Disease as well. Preventing infection with these ubiquitous pathogens may prove difficult in the absence of a vaccine, however.


Herpes at the Golden Globes?

Last night Alfonso Cuarón, upon receiving the Golden Globe for best director for Gravity, spoke about how his accent confused actress Sandra Bullock who heard "I'm going to give you herpes" when he was actually talking about an earpiece.

The truth is the majority of the population already has herpes, the infection caused by herpes simplex virus (HSV). The word herpes is Greek and means "to creep", a reference to the creeping skin lesions characteristic of the infection.

Herpes comes in two varieties: HSV-1 and HSV-2. HSV-1 is generally considered to cause oral herpes, while HSV-2 is associated with genital herpes. For obvious reasons, these demarcations are quite fluid and anything goes. 

By the time an adult reaches their 40s, 90% have been infected with HSV-1. Although only 17% of US adults have been infected with HSV-2, this rates varies based on demographics with 80% of African American women infected. Once infected with the virus, a person is at risk for subsequent attacks as the virus is not cleared from the body. However, herpes can be successfully treated with antivirals such as valacyclovir, famcyclovir, and acyclovir. 

As almost everyone has had a "cold sore" or "fever blister" (gingivostomatitis) and has oral herpes, there really should not be any stigma associated with this universal disease. Getting herpes is part and parcel of the human condition, much like catching a cold or breaking a bone, and not creeping death (Metallica reference and pun intended).