Alzheimer’s, the Herpes Virus, and Chickenpox: How They’re Connected

Alzheimer’s, the Herpes Virus, and Chickenpox: How They’re Connected

It can be a doomed chain reaction. Getting your shingles vaccine can help.

At present, Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia worldwide. An estimated 5.6 million people over the age of 65 are suffering from the disease in the US, as well as around 200,000 who have early-onset Alzheimer’s at a younger age.

The root exact cause of this type of dementia has so far eluded scientists. New discoveries are being made every day, however, and one of these has to do with the connection between Alzheimer’s, the herpes virus, and the virus that causes chickenpox.

Researchers have discovered the three diseases are intertwined.  Here’s what scientists now know and how their discoveries could help advance modern medicine.

If the chickenpox virus reawakens, it can also wake up herpes

Scientists from Tufts University in partnership with researchers from the University of Oxford used a model that imitates the human brain to make their discoveries. This 3D human tissue culture was populated in sponges with neural stem cells that grew to function as they would normally in your brain.

It was found that in neural brain cells that experience a certain chain of events,  Alzheimer’s could potentially be triggered in some patients.

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It all starts earlier in life. Most people catch chickenpox as an early childhood illness. Today, children are also vaccinated against this disease. This virus, like the one that causes herpes, is tricky and lies dormant in your nervous system after you recover from the illness. This occurs for years after your initial infection.

In some people, this chicken pox virus reawakens later in life in the form of shingles. If this happens and you also have been exposed to the herpes virus at some point, this re-exposure to the chickenpox virus can also re-awaken the herpes virus in your system. It’s a tragic chain of events. When this happens, the early stages of Alzheimer’s can be set in motion. The reactivation of both viruses one after the other can lead to increased inflammation in the brain. This can lead to the accumulation of plaque on the brain and the loss of clear thinking typically found in people who have Alzheimer’s.

Multiple routes to the disease

Of course, some people develop dementia for other reasons. Researchers are saying this newly discovered route likely isn’t the only cause of the disease but it could be a common one. Some people develop Alzheimers due to being obese, suffering from head trauma, or some other risk factor like drinking too much alcohol for many years. Because so many people get chickenpox and encounter the oral herpes virus throughout their lifetime, however, this particular pathway is one scientists say they want to focus on even more.

One good thing that’s been discovered amongst all of this is that the rates of Alzheimer’s disease tend to go down when seniors get their shingles vaccine. This vaccine is recommended by the CDC for people aged 50 and over in the US.

So, make your appointment and be sure to get your shingles shot.

To learn about this study and about shingles vaccine, click hereFor information about the shingles vaccine, click here.

photo credits: PopTika/

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