Can Treating Herpes Prevent Alzheimer's?

Alzheimer's and mood disorders are common research topics due to their difficult effects on individuals. Recent studies show prevention might come from treating something else entirely: herpes.
Can Treating Herpes Prevent Alzheimer's?

Last update: 19 May, 2021

Can treating herpes prevent Alzheimer’s? According to recent findings, yes. In fact, treating the disease early on can reduce the risk of contracting Alzheimer’s and diseases like depression. But what does this really mean? Let’s take a closer look below.

Many people suffer from sporadic herpes outbreaks, especially around the mouth and mucous membranes. Outbreaks can happen due to changes in weather, sun exposure, contact with an irritating substance, fatigue, stress, or hormonal changes.

Doctors regularly stress the importance of catching and treating illnesses early on, but now we know that this is even more important with herpes after the latest findings that are both surprising and interesting.

Recent evidence suggests that there’s a relationship between the herpes virus and the risk of contracting depression and Alzheimer’s. Consequently, treating herpes is crucial in preventing these diseases.

The herpes virus shows up to stay

Herpes is a family of extremely infectious viruses. Once herpes infects the cells, the virus stays dormant until something triggers an outbreak (fatigue, stress, low immune response, etc.).

Commonly, these outbreaks cause eruptions on the skin and mucous membranes (in the case of oral and genital herpes). However, scientists have found strong evidence that suggests herpes simplex viruses can also affect brain cells.

How does this happen? The virus can potentially spread to the brain and infect healthy brain cells, staying dormant until activated.

Something to consider

It’s important to remember that herpes simplex viruses (type 1 and 2) typically cause recurring infections on the skin, in and around the mouth and lips, the eyes, and the genitals.

Can treating herpes prevent Alzheimer's?
Cold sores are a common presentation of herpes. This would appear as sores or ulcers on the lips’ vermilion border or, sometimes, on the roof of the mouth.

On the other hand, the MSD Manuals indicate that the most common severe infections linked to the herpes viruses are: encephalitis, meningitis, neonatal herpes, and, in immunodeficient patients, generalized infection.

Now that we have taken this into account, let’s move on to the next question: do herpes viruses cause Alzheimer’s?  

Herpes and Alzheimer’s: is there a relation?

Some scientific studies that have researched this question have found that, when present in the brain, the herpes virus can cause swelling, which is one of the risk factors for Alzheimer’s. The presence of these viruses in the brain can contribute to the generation of senile plaques, which are commonplace in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.

In order to better understand the relevance of herpes viruses and brain diseases, scientists examined the use of antimicrobial and antiviral drugs in treating Alzheimer’s. In this study, researchers found that people who used antiviral medication to treat herpes reduced the risk of contracting dementia in the future by up to 50%.

Moreover, the longer patients took antivirals (periods longer than 30 days), the more protected they were from dementia. These findings open the door to new studies that might help improve the way we treat Alzheimer’s.

The herpes virus and mood disorders

Studies also show that herpes viruses can cause depression, one of the most common types of mood disorders.

Woman on a couch.

In addition to depression, scientists have studied the relationship between herpes and other mental illnesses like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

In one study, post mortem analyses of the nervous systems of individuals who suffered from mood disorders found that the herpes virus was present with more frequency than in those individuals who didn’t have mood disorders.

Therefore, researchers propose using antiviral drug treatment as a way to prevent brain diseases. However, doses, drug type, and treatment still require further investigation. Without a doubt, these diseases must be treated properly to avoid greater risks of mental illness.

Can treating herpes prevent Alzheimer’s?

In conclusion, treating herpes has probably never been as important as it is now. This realization brings us to reflect upon many questions and assumptions, among which is the importance of following your doctor’s advice and seeking medical attention if you think you are experiencing herpes symptoms.

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Oral Herpes: Symptoms and Treatment
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Oral Herpes: Symptoms and Treatment

Oral herpes is often called "fever blisters" or "cold sores" and is easily spread through contact like kissing or sharing utensils.

  • Itzhaki R. F. (2018). Corroboration of a Major Role for Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 in Alzheimer’s Disease. Frontiers in aging neuroscience, 10, 324.
  • Iqbal, U. H., Zeng, E., & Pasinetti, G. M. (2020). The Use of Antimicrobial and Antiviral Drugs in Alzheimer’s Disease. International journal of molecular sciences, 21(14), 4920.
  • Medicamentos para la enfermedad de alzheimer. Retrieved from
  • Prusty, B. K., Gulve, N., Govind, S., Krueger, G. R. F., Feichtinger, J., Larcombe, L., . . . Toro, C. T. (2018). Active HHV-6 infection of cerebellar purkinje cells in mood disorders. Frontiers in Microbiology, 9 doi:10.3389/fmicb.2018.01955