The flu and herpes viruses are bad enough already. But Harvard Medical School scientists believe that they may cause lasting brain cell damage, making sufferers vulnerable to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
Details are published in the journal Science Translational Medicine. A MyHealthNewsDaily article, via FoxNews.com, offers some pretty solid highlights of the main findings.
Researchers think the key here is inflammation, according to the article--specifically inflammatory molecules called cytokines. They're a natural response to flu, herpes and other viruses. But they appear to become highly concentrated up to several weeks after an infection, apparently causing the damage, according to the story.
Researchers think that by blocking this buildup, and reducing inflammation soon after a virus strikes, they could reduce the risk of brain cell damage and neurological diseases later. The solution could be as simple as taking ibuprofen, Harvard's Ole Isacson is quoted as suggesting, based on a 2011 study that showed the anti-inflammatory drug left patients 30% less likely to develop Parkinson's over 6 years versus those who didn’t take the over-the-counter drug. (135,000 people took part.)
Some perspective: Don't go thinking that just one bout of the flu or another virus makes you vulnerable to neurodegenerative diseases. The idea is that cell injury accumulation can build up over a lifetime, kind of like successive football injuries to the head. Though there are exceptions. The article notes, for example, that previous research connected some herpes virus variations to a higher Alzheimer's risk.
The Harvard theory is just that right now, a theory, with frequent uses of the words "may" and "could be" that could end up ultimately being wrong. It needs to be tested rigorously to see if it holds, and that will require years of additional research and data.