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Cold Sores Linked to Cognitive Problems, Study

Update Date: Mar 25, 2013 03:58 PM EDT

That cold sore you had a month ago could be the reason why you can never find your keys.  Researchers found that a virus that causes cold sores, along with other viral or bacterial infections, may also lead to cognitive problems.

A new study, published March 26 in the journal Neurology, found that people who have had higher levels of infection or antibody levels in their blood, meaning that they had been exposed over the years to various pathogens like the herpes simplex type 1 virus that causes cold sores, were more likely to have memory problems compared to people with lower levels of infection in the blood.

"We found the link was greater among women, those with lower levels of education and Medicaid or no health insurance, and most prominently, in people who do not exercise," study author Dr. Mira Katan, of the Northern Manhattan Study at Columbia University Medical Center in New York and a member of the American Academy of Neurology said in a statement.

In the study, researchers gave 1,625 people with an average age of 69 memory and thinking tests.  Participants also gave blood samples that were tested for five common low grade infections: three viruses (herpes simplex type 1 (oral) and type 2 (genital), and cytomegalovirus), chlamydia pneumoniae (a common respiratory infection) and Helicobacter pylori (a bacteria found in the stomach).

The findings reveal that participants who had higher levels of infection were 25 percent more likely to score poorly on a common cognition test called the Mini-Mental State Examination.

Researchers tested participants' memory and thinking skills every year for an average of eight years.  However, researcher found no evidence that that infection was associated with changes in memory and thinking abilities over time.

"While this association needs to be further studied, the results could lead to ways to identify people at risk of cognitive impairment and eventually lower that risk," Katan concluded. "For example, exercise and childhood vaccinations against viruses could decrease the risk for memory problems later in life."

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