Cold sores linked to Alzheimer's disease

Cold sore afflicted: Most of us are infected by the herpes simplex virus-1 during childhood.
Cold sore afflicted: Most of us are infected by the herpes simplex virus-1 during childhood.Courtesy andrewjthomas
Researchers have found a link between the virus that causes cold sores and Alzheimer’s disease. This isn’t good news for me. I’ve suffered from cold sore outbreaks (aka fever blisters) since I was a kid. These nasty things - which usually erupt on or around your mouth - come from being infected with HSV-1 (Herpes Simplex Virus 1) and are contagious, spreading easily via direct contact. HSV-2 (Herpes Simplex Virus 2, is generally known as genital herpes. Both are similar skin infections (and are related to Herpes zoster, also known as shingles which anyone who's ever had chicken pox can get). The difference between the two versions of HSV is essentially the site of preference for each. HSV-1 prefers the oral area, while HSV-2 prefers the genitalia, although either can occur in both places. You could say oral HSV-1 is just more socially acceptable. The Buzz had previous posts about HSV-2 here and here so I won't go into that now.

Regarding HSV-1, the virus infects something like 90% of the adult population, but only 20-30% of those ever present symptoms. Otherwise the invader lays dormant within nerve cells of the host. When an outbreak does occur it begins as an itching or tingling on the skin. A day or two later painful fluid-filled blisters form in the region. These eventually burst leaving open ulcers. During this time the virus is very contagious. But that’s not a big deal since the likelihood of anyone wanting to be near you, let alone look at you is extremely low at this time in the cycle. However, despite common belief, the virus is communicable at any time – even when no symptoms are present. But since most of us are already infected - who cares? Eventually the ulcers dry up, scabs form, flake off and reform, and the virus become inactive again. The cycle runs anywhere from a week to ten days. Several things are known to trigger outbreaks, including common colds, stress, and even exposure to sunlight.

Two of my 4 siblings get outbreaks, and we probably inherited the virus from our dad who used to get them but no longer does since he’s retired. I suppose I’ve passed the affliction on to my sons because my youngest experienced his first outbreak just last year over his eyelid rather than around his mouth. The outbreaks can take place anywhere on your face (I’ve had them on my nose) and although they can occur on either side of the face they usually only appear on one side at a time during any one outbreak.

As if I’m not suffering enough, now researchers at the University of Manchester in England are saying they have DNA evidence that HSV-1 is present in 90% of the plaque found in the brains of Alzheimer patients. The research, led by professor Ruth Itzhaki, appears in the recent Journal of Pathology.

The same researchers, in a previous study, linked production of beta myloid - the primary component of protein plaque deposits - to HSV-1 infections of nerve cells in mice. Together, the two studies make a strong case that the dementia in Alzheimer’s sufferers is caused by the same virus that triggers cold sores.

"We suggest that HSV1 enters the brain in the elderly as their immune systems decline and then establishes a dormant infection from which it is repeatedly activated by events such as stress, immunosuppression, and various infections," said Professor Itzhaki.

The virus destroys the nearby brain cells causing them to release and deposit amyloid proteins that form plaque deposits on brain tissue.

The one good thing about this disturbing development is that anti-viral medications used now to treat cold sores could lead scientists toward prevention or even a cure of Alzheimer’s disease.


ScienceDaily story story
The truth about herpes
Alzheimer's disease linked to junk food
Snoring linked to Alzheimer's

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

tao's picture
tao says:

too bad its permanent

posted on Thu, 12/18/2008 - 6:44pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Can a man have sexual relations with a women who has HIV2..... not get it himself but pass it to another person.....

posted on Mon, 03/02/2009 - 10:52am
mdr's picture
mdr says:

Since bodily fluids can contain and transmit the HIV virus it is possible depending how soon after his initial contact the man has relations with the next person.

posted on Mon, 03/02/2009 - 1:22pm
Chad Humphrey's picture

Yes, there is such a thing as "latent infection."

posted on Fri, 12/11/2009 - 6:45pm
Chad Humphrey's picture

This HSV and alzheimer's link is pretty novel to me.

Vitamin D deficiency may also be correlated to alzheimer's development:
Vitamin D deficiency occurs in 55% of patients with Parkinson's Disease (PD) and 41% in patients with Alzheimer's Disease (AD). [86] Vitamin D receptors and 1α-hydroxylase (1α-OHase), the enzyme responsible for converting Vitamin D into it's active form, are heavily expressed in the substantia nigra, the region of brain where dopaminergic neurons are located. [87]Moreover, Alzheimer's Disease has been linked to genetic mutations in the Vitamin D receptor, and patients with the mutation were 2.3 times more likely to develop Alzheimer's Disease. [88]

Omega-3 levels may also play a role in Alzheimer's Disease:
A 9 year epidemiological study including 899 men and women found people with the highest percentage of plasma DHA omega-3 were 47% less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease. [118]

Based on these articles and a number of others I've come to believe it probably goes without saying that Alzheimer's is certainly influenced by environmental factors, and nutrition is an important consideration.

It's also worth mentioning here that Vitamin D has also been shown to play some extremely important IMMUNE functions.

By the way, in the above post you have a typo. "beta myloid" should be "beta amyloid."

posted on Fri, 12/11/2009 - 8:08pm
Jenny Ferrera's picture

I'd just like to correct the anonymous above as the author of the article was referring to HSV-1 and not HIV they are absolutely different.

However, oral HSV-1 can be transmitted from individual to individual and it may lie dormant and inactive until something triggers an outbreak of cold sores. As the original mentioned his father no longer got the outbreaks since he had retired. One of the triggers for an outbreak is stress and increased levels of anxiety. That could be the reason why he stopped getting the attacks.

posted on Tue, 11/09/2010 - 10:28am
bethrussell's picture
bethrussell says:

HSV 1 is apparently linked to Alzheimer's disease which has no definite cause but continuous studies are conducted.This correlation maybe due to the fact that virus is involved in the onset of the disease.Moreover,while I was browsing I have read a study posted in the online journal Molecular Psychiatry that says Alzheimer's disease could be the consequence of a virus. If it is indeed an infection, Alzheimer's could also be contagious. Researchers discovered that with time, the disease develops in much the same way as a virus. Article source: Alzheimer's disease may be contagious, study suggests

posted on Tue, 10/11/2011 - 4:47am

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <h3> <h4> <em> <i> <strong> <b> <span> <ul> <ol> <li> <blockquote> <object> <embed> <param> <sub> <sup>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • You may embed videos from the following providers vimeo, youtube. Just add the video URL to your textarea in the place where you would like the video to appear, i.e.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Images can be added to this post.

More information about formatting options