A new study has revealed that the viruses that cause oral herpes and genital herpes may increase the risk of memory problems.
Researchers from Columbia University Medical Center and the University of Miami tested thinking and memory in more than 1,600 seniors each year for an average of eight years. Participants gave blood samples that were tested for five common low-grade infections, including the HSV-1, the virus that causes oral herpes, and HSV-2, the virus that causes genital herpes.
The results, which are published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, showed that the people who had higher levels of infection were 25 percent more likely to have a low score on a common cognition test.
However, while increased levels of infections in the system were associated with lower cognition, they were not associated with changes in memory and thinking abilities over time.
Additionally, while infection seemed to impact memory, lack of exercise and lower levels of education were associated with cognitive problems, as well.
"The results could lead to ways to identify people at risk of cognitive impairment and eventually lower that risk," said the study's author, Mira Katan, M.D.
According to the American Sexual Health Association, more than half of the adult population in the U.S. has oral herpes. The virus causes sores around the mouth that are commonly referred to as "cold sores" or "fever blisters."
Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease that affects as many as one in six individuals, according the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Both viruses often cause repeat outbreaks of sores and are not curable. However, antiviral medications may help prevent outbreaks and the transmission of the virus to others.