Herpes is becoming a problem for NASA astronauts


53% of those on short space shuttle flights developed the virus. Stress, sleep disorders and poor efficacy of immune system cells may be some of the reasons.

Image of the International Space Station.Pixabay

Herpes is becoming a real problem for NASA astronauts. More than half of the crew that normally aboard missions of the space shuttle and the international space station is frequently affected by this virus. (Read Karen Uhlenbeck, the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in mathematics)

The information was published by NASA itself in Frontiers in Microbiology. According to the research, although only a small proportion develops symptoms, reactivation rates increase with the duration of space flight and may pose a significant health risk in future missions. (Read The rare case (but not unique in Colombia) of the baby who was born with the brother in the womb)

The reason? Satish K. Mehta of KBR Wyle at the Johnsony Space Center, the lead author of the article, summed up Europa Press: "NASA astronauts endure weeks or even months exposed to microgravity and cosmic radiation, not to mention extreme G-takeoff forces and re-entry. This physical challenge is aggravated by more familiar stressors such as social separation, confinement, and an altered sleep-wake cycle. "(Lea Colombia joins evidence-based medicine)

To study the physiological impact of spaceflight, Mehta and his colleagues analyzed samples of saliva, blood, and urine collected from astronauts before, during, and after spaceflight.

"During space flight, there is an increase in the secretion of stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, which are known to suppress the immune system." Consistent with this, we have found that astronaut immune cells, particularly those that normally suppress and eliminate viruses, become less effective during space flight and sometimes up to 60 days later. "

Amid this stress-induced amnesty in viral death, latent viruses are reactivated and reappear.

"To date, 47 of the 89 (53%) astronauts on short space shuttle flights and 14 of the 23 (61%) in ISS longer missions eliminate the herpes virus from saliva or urine samples," says Mehta. "These frequencies, as well as the amount, of viral spread are markedly higher than in pre-flight or post-flight samples, or healthy controls."

In general, four of the eight known human herpes viruses were detected. These include the varieties responsible for oral and genital herpes (HSV), chickenpox and zona (VZV), which remain throughout our lives in our nerve cells, as well as CMV and EBV, which have a permanent residence but no incidents in our immune cells during childhood. CMV and EBV, are two viruses associated with causing different strains of mononucleosis or "kiss disease".

Exploration of deep space can depend on effective prevention and treatment. So far, this viral shedding is typically asymptomatic. "Only six astronauts developed symptoms due to viral reactivation," says Mehta. "They were all children."

However, the continued elimination of the virus after flight may endanger immunocompromised or uninfected contacts on Earth such as newborns.

"Infectious VZV and CMV were eliminated in body fluids within 30 days after the return of the International Space Station."

Moreover, as we prepare for the missions of deep human space beyond the Moon and Mars, the risk that the reactivation of the herpes virus represents the astronauts and their contacts could be more crucial.

"The magnitude, frequency and duration of viral propagation increase with the duration of space flight."

Developing countermeasures for viral reactivation is essential to the success of these deep space missions, says Mehta.

"The ideal countermeasure is vaccination for astronauts, but so far only available against VZV," he warns. "Tests of other herpes virus vaccines are not very promising, so our current focus is the development of specific treatment regimens for people suffering the consequences of viral reactivation."

In his eyes, "this research also has tremendous clinical relevance for patients on Earth." Our space-developed technologies for rapid viral salivary detection have been used in clinics and hospitals around the world.


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