Viral infections may raise chances of dementia ’20 times’, including influenza

Alzheimer’s disease describes a gradual decline in brain function that, over time, seriously threatens a person’s independence. Although there is still no cure for this disease, people are strongly encouraged to change their risk factors to delay the onset of the disease. The new findings suggest that risk factors may include six viral infections that are common in the general population.

The latest findings, published in the journal Neuron, warn that early viral infections can pave the way for neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and dementia.

The findings were drawn from an analysis of 300,000 patients whose medical records were evaluated to determine who had one of the six neurodegenerative diseases.

The diseases were:
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • BASS
  • Generalized dementia
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • vascular dementia.

The analysis found that generalized dementia was most closely associated with exposure to the virus.

READ MORE: An extra 30 minutes of walking a day can reduce your risk of dementia by 21%

Researchers have found a link between dementia and six different viral infections:

  • Viral encephalitis
  • Viral warts
  • All influenza
  • Flu and pneumonia
  • Viral pneumonia and other viral diseases.

Looking more closely at these associations, the scientists found that patients with viral encephalitis were at least 20 times more likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease compared to those who had never had the virus.

The results also showed that severe cases of influenza are associated with the widest range of neurodegenerative disease risks.

Dr. Mike Knoll, head of the Advanced Analytics panel at the National Institutes of Health’s Center for Alzheimer’s and Associated Dementias, said it was suspected for years that there was a link between viral infection and neurodegeneration.


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He explained: “Over the years, several laboratory experiments have shown that viruses can be a risk factor for neurodegenerative diseases.

“What surprised us is that we were able to get similar results by examining medical records.”

Although the results indicate a correlation, they cannot prove any causal relationship.

Dr Knoll added: “At this point we are not looking at a mechanistic connection, we are just showing the connection – much more work needs to be done.

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“The results of this study provide researchers with several important new pieces of the neurodegenerative disorder puzzle.”

He added: “In the future, we plan to use the latest data science tool to not only find more fragments, but also help researchers understand how these fragments, including genes and other risk factors, fit together.”

Scientists have long suggested that inflammation is a potential mechanism underlying the link between viral diseases and dementia.

There is ample evidence of how harmful viral inflammation is to various aspects of human health, including the cardiovascular and respiratory systems.

Viral agents can also reach the brain.

The Alzheimer’s Society explains that when viral agents reach the brain, they can activate certain immune cells known as microglia.

“When microglia are activated, they can cause inflammation in the brain,” the health authority explains.

“This type of inflammation is thought to be associated with the progression of dementia by causing nerve cell death.”

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