Study links some viral infections with cognitive deterioration in older adults

Exposure to viral infections, like cytomegalovirus, herpes simplex viruses 1 and 2, and the protozoa Toxoplasma gondii, may accelerate cognitive decline in otherwise healthy older adults, according to research from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

The research team studied the blood samples of more than 1,000 participants 65 years old and older looking for signs of exposure to viral infections and examining the patients' cognitive change over a span of five years.

They found the viruses, which can linger in the body long after acute infection, may have some neurotoxic effects.

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"This is important from a public health perspective, as these infections are very common and several options for prevention and treatment are available," said senior investigator Mary Ganguli, MD, professor of psychiatry at Pitt. "As we learn more about the role that infectious agents play in the brain, we might develop new prevention strategies for cognitive impairment."

Moving forward, the researchers are working on deciphering whether some patients' brains are more vulnerable than others to the effects of chronic viral infection.



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