Three common viruses appear to increase the risk that elderly people will suffer from dementia. One of these is the widespread sexually transmitted herpes virus.

People with a history of infection with at least two of the viruses?two strains of herpes and a microbe called cytomegalovirus?were twice as likely to show significant mental decline during their later years due to damaged brain cells. Cytomegalovirus was once thought to only be harmful to babies in the womb, but not to healthy adults.

Neurologist Howard Gendelman says, “In elderly patients, the local infection can penetrate the blood-brain barrier. Inflammation can then seep into the brain and cause a secondary inflammatory response in the brain’s immune cells.” This inflammation can lead to dementia.

The number of people with herpes simplex virus type 2, which causes most cases of genital herpes, has increased 30% in the last twenty years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one in five American adolescents and adults now have it. This is about 45 million people. And 80 to 90% of them don’t know they have it, which it makes it more likely they’ll pass it on.

Scientists now know that brain diseases, from Alzheimer’s to Parkinson’s, have some connection to inflammation. However, genetics, nutrition and many other factors affect a person’s susceptibility to brain inflammation.

Maybe we’d better stick with reading in bed.

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