According to a study of almost 500,000 medical records, neurological illnesses like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s are more common among people who have had severe viral infections like encephalitis and pneumonia.
In a study involving almost 450,000 participants, researchers discovered 22 associations between viral infections and neurodegenerative diseases. Individuals receiving treatment for viral encephalitis, a form of brain inflammation, had a 31-fold increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. (Out of 406 cases of viral encephalitis, 24 (about 6% of cases) developed Alzheimer’s disease.) Patients with pneumonia who were admitted to the hospital following a flu episode appeared to have a higher risk of developing dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
Numerous neurological illnesses have also been linked to the development of varicella-zoster, the virus that causes shingles, meningitis, and intestinal infections—all of which are frequently brought on by viruses.
In certain situations, the effects of viral infections on the brain could last up to 15 years. Furthermore, there were no cases in which being exposed to viruses offered protection. Approximately 80% of the viruses linked to brain disorders were deemed “neurotrophic,” meaning they had the ability to penetrate the blood-brain barrier. “Strikingly, vaccines are currently available for some of these viruses, including influenza, shingles (varicella-zoster), and pneumonia,” the authors noted.
While immunizations may not guarantee against sickness, they are known to significantly lower the rate of hospitalization. According to available data, immunization may reduce a person’s chance of contracting a neurodegenerative illness. A study conducted in 2022 on over 10 million individuals found a 32-fold increase in the chance of multiple sclerosis when exposed to the Epstein-Barr virus. Senior author Michael Nalls, a neurogeneticist at the National Institute on Aging in the US, stated, “After reading [this] study, we realized that for years scientists had been searching – one-by-one – for links between an individual neurodegenerative disorder and a specific virus.”
“That’s when we decided to try a different, more data science-based approach,” he stated. “By using medical records, we were able to systematically search for all possible links in one shot.” Initially, the researchers examined the medical records of about 35,000 Finns suffering from six distinct neurodegenerative disease types and contrasted them with a control group of 310,000 individuals who were brain illness-free.
A second examination of 100,000 medical data from the UK Biobank reduced the 45 correlations found in this research between viral exposure and neurodegenerative disorders to 22 linkages.
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