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Spaceflight reactivates herpes virus in astronauts
A NASA-led study suggests the stress of spaceflight seems to trigger various types of herpes to reactivate in astronauts.
- The study examined saliva, blood and urine obtained from astronauts who went on short- and long-term space missions.
- The results showed that virus reactivation rates in these astronauts were much higher than controls.
- Spaceflight seems to weaken the immune system, enabling these once-dormant viruses to reactivate and potentially cause serious health problems.
The stress of executing space missions could cause dormant viruses to reactivate within astronauts, suggests a new study led by NASA.
The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology on February 7, analyzed samples of saliva, blood, and urine obtained from astronauts before, during, and after 10- to 16-day space flights and long-term missions aboard the International Space Station.
"To date, 47 out of 89 (53 percent) astronauts on short space shuttle flights, and 14 out of 23 (61 percent) on longer ISS missions shed herpes viruses in their saliva or urine samples," said lead study author Dr. Satish K. Mehta at Johnson Space Center. "These frequencies — as well as the quantity — of viral shedding are markedly higher than in samples from before or after flight, or from matched healthy controls."
Shedding occurs when herpes successfully reproduces and leaves the host cell, whereby it could potentially infect another person. The process can occur without any noticeable symptoms. This — combined with the fact that the herpes simplex virus cleverly conceals itself in the central nervous system where the immune system can't eradicate it — helps explain why about two-thirds of people worldwide have some form of herpes.
"Only six astronauts developed any symptoms due to viral reactivation," Mehta said. "All were minor."
Astronauts face a unique set of stressors in space that seem to hinder the immune system's ability to keep viruses dormant. The study shows that space missions seemed to reactivate at least four types of the herpes virus within astronauts. Alarmingly, these reactivation rates increased as astronauts spent more time in space.
"NASA astronauts endure weeks or even months exposed to microgravity and cosmic radiation — not to mention the extreme G forces of take-off and re-entry," Mehta said. "This physical challenge is compounded by more familiar stressors like social separation, confinement, and an altered sleep-wake cycle.
"During spaceflight there is a rise in secretion of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which are known to suppress the immune system. In keeping with this, we find that astronauts' immune cells — particularly those that normally suppress and eliminate viruses — become less effective during spaceflight and sometimes for up to 60 days after."
What's more, the researchers wrote that more than one virus generally activates at a time, potentially compounding the risks the viruses pose, including "not only rashes, but also severe target organ failures, and permanent vision and hearing loss."
It's a major concern for space agencies looking to send astronauts on long-term missions to Mars.
"Ultimately, the information gleaned from these space studies will shape the way we prepare for and design exploration-class missions, beyond the moon and mars, where reactivation of latent viruses could result in increased risk for wide-ranging adverse medical events."
Herpes and the general public
As with astronauts, stress can cause herpes outbreaks and shedding among everyday people.
"Daily stress is enough to be a trigger," Connecticut-based dermatologist Mona Gohara, MD, told Health.
Although researchers are searching for a cure, none currently exists for the eight strains of herpes virus, which include chicken pox and shingles, in addition to what's commonly called oral (HSV-1) and genital (HSV-2) herpes.
"Herpes lives in your system dormant forever. It's kind of like a sleeping bear: When you get stressed out, the bear is mustered out of hibernation," Gohara said.
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Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.
- The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
- The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
- It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
The Red Sea area where Neom will be built:
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Are we genetically inclined for superstition or just fearful of the truth?
- From secret societies to faked moon landings, one thing that humanity seems to have an endless supply of is conspiracy theories. In this compilation, physicist Michio Kaku, science communicator Bill Nye, psychologist Sarah Rose Cavanagh, skeptic Michael Shermer, and actor and playwright John Cameron Mitchell consider the nature of truth and why some groups believe the things they do.
- "I think there's a gene for superstition, a gene for hearsay, a gene for magic, a gene for magical thinking," argues Kaku. The theoretical physicist says that science goes against "natural thinking," and that the superstition gene persists because, one out of ten times, it actually worked and saved us.
- Other theories shared include the idea of cognitive dissonance, the dangerous power of fear to inhibit critical thinking, and Hollywood's romanticization of conspiracies. Because conspiracy theories are so diverse and multifaceted, combating them has not been an easy task for science.
A growing body of research suggests COVID-19 can cause serious neurological problems.
- The new study seeks to track the health of 50,000 people who have tested positive for COVID-19.
- The study aims to explore whether the disease causes cognitive impairment and other conditions.
- Recent research suggests that COVID-19 can, directly or indirectly, cause brain dysfunction, strokes, nerve damage and other neurological problems.
Brain images of a patient with acute demyelinating encephalomyelitis.
COVID-19 and the brain<p>A growing body of research reveals alarming neurological complications among COVID-19 patients. On Wednesday, for example, researchers from University College London published a <a href="https://academic.oup.com/brain/article/doi/10.1093/brain/awaa240/5868408" target="_blank">study</a> in the journal Brain that describes how some patients have suffered temporary brain dysfunction, strokes, nerve damage, and other neurological problems concurrent with COVID-19.</p><p>Some patients suffered brain inflammation as a result of a rare disease called acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, which can cause numbness, seizures, and confusion. One patient in the study even hallucinated monkeys and lions in her home.</p>
Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images<p>A separate study published in the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7198407/" target="_blank">Journal of Clinical Neuroscience</a> notes that some COVID-19 patients have also suffered neurological complications like impaired consciousness and acute cerebrovascular disease. The study notes that past viruses like MERS and SARS also seemed to cause neurological problems.</p><p>A troubling finding among this growing body of research is that some patients seem to suffer neurological damage even when respiratory symptoms aren't obvious. Additionally, scientists aren't sure whether damage from the disease will be permanent.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Given that the disease has only been around for a matter of months, we might not yet know what long-term damage COVID-19 can cause," Dr. Ross Paterson, joint first author of the University College London study, said in a <a href="https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-07/ucl-iid070620.php" target="_blank">press release</a>. "Doctors needs to be aware of possible neurological effects, as early diagnosis can improve patient outcomes."</p><p>If you've been diagnosed with COVID-19 and want to enroll in the study, visit <a href="https://www.cambridgebrainsciences.com/studies/covid-brain-study" target="_blank">cambridgebrainsciences.com/studies/covid-brain-study</a>.</p>
Coronavirus layoffs are a glimpse into our automated future. We need to build better education opportunities now so Americans can find work in the economy of tomorrow.