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‘Is Herpes Making Alzheimer’s Worse?’

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Press reports indicated that new research had provided further evidence of a link between Alzheimer’s and cold sores. They said that vaccinating people against the HSV-1 virus that causes cold sores could prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s.

What did the research show?

The reports drew from an article in New Scientist magazine, which was itself taken from a presentation at the Engineered Negligible Senescence conference in Cambridge.

Researchers at the University of Manchester found human brain cell cultures infected with HSV-1 showed an increase in beta amyloid protein.

This forms the plaques present in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. Experiments using mice also confirmed the results.

A separate experiment last year in mice showed that HSV-1 was more active in people who carried a gene called ApoE4, which is present in half of people who have Alzheimer’s.
Another experiment, found HSV-1 viruses attached to plaques in slices of brain taken from Alzheimer’s patients.

What did the researchers say?

Report author Ruth Itzhaki, professorial fellow in molecular neurobiology at the University of Manchester, suggested ApoE4 may repeatedly activate HSV-1, increasing the risk of Alzheimer’s.

What does it mean for nursing practice?

Linda Nazarko, an independent nurse consultant for older people, said any treatment was a long way off. She added that the NHS has been extremely slow in taking up new treatments for Alzheimer’s. Ms Nazarko criticised a decision last November by NICE to prevent the NHS from paying for acetylcholinesterase inhibitors in the disease’s early stages, which can stave off Alzheimer’s in around one in 12 patients.

‘We have one of the worst records for treating Alzheimer’s in Europe. We have the worst record in late diagnosis and with this guidance, there is no incentive to diagnose early.

‘[Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors] can give patients their lives back for 12 months. We aren’t even using what we have got at the moment – if we have something better in the future will we be banning that as well?’

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