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How Herpes Affects Multiple Sclerosis

How Herpes Affects Multiple Sclerosis

Having multiple sclerosis is difficult to manage on its own. The symptoms may feel overwhelming, so researching and being an active participant in the appropriate care plan are two important steps. There are several viruses that impact the neurological system in the body. Herpes is a disease that is chronic, but one that might not seem dangerous. By adding a concurrent disorder, symptoms may make each other worse, similar to a domino effect. There is starting to be an accumulation of research on the topic of herpes and MS. The question on many people’s minds is how to prevent and treat concurrent diseases. It is worth exploring the connection between the two diseases and if herpes makes MS worse.

Four factors could play a role in getting multiple sclerosis. These are immunologic, genetic, viral, and environmental factors. In the case of herpes, this would be caused by a viral infection. If fatigue is already an issue, muscle weakness and other multiple sclerosis problems, herpes can add to it. Herpes and MS are problematic because herpes is a virus and multiple sclerosis is a disease where the immune system malfunctions. Along with other viral diseases, herpes is being investigated as a cause of MS.

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Herpes is known as sort of an uncomfortable disease. There are two types, one of which is sexually transmitted. As for symptoms, you may feel itchy or tingly around the area impacted by the virus. Then you might notice painful, small blisters that pop and leave sores. These sores sometimes ooze or bleed. Symptoms show up pretty quickly, usually within a few weeks after catching the virus. The first time it happens, you may also have a fever or flu-like feelings. Some people have no symptoms. A good majority of people are exposed to the virus at some point in their lives. The type that is not sexually transmitted is exposed to many during childhood. If it has been years since exposure, you may not even realize you have it. The initial infection goes away but the virus never truly leaves our bodies. It can reactivate later in life. The virus stays by integrating itself into our genetic code. To escape the immune system, it hides in cells.

Knowing this background is important. As a result, if you have been exposed, you may need treatment. Remember, these symptoms will interact with MS, so it is vital to get all infections under control.

The study

Herpes was initially thought to be a cause of MS or worsen it. It particular, it is the HHV-6 strand that researchers have studied in relation to MS. These HHV-6 antibodies were associated with a higher risk of an MS relapse. Women were hit harder by the antibody levels, as they had three times the amount. These outcomes can predict how MS will progress over time. Researchers are using epidemiology and new technology to track this phenomenon. Also, antibody levels were nearly three times higher in women with progressive MS. These researchers suggest that tracking HHV-6 antibodies may help to predict the clinical course of MS. The silver lining to the studies is that the herpes virus has been ruled out as a cause of MS. This will allow researchers to find other causes that might be harming patients.

The HHV-6 type is a neurovirulent, meaning it attacks neurological systems. Scientists and researchers are working to find out how different severities of symptoms affect the disease process. One factor that may impact MS is the effect the herpes virus has on getting the brain to repair itself. The herpes virus produces a protein which could be critical. This protein, called U94, impairs the ability of brain cells to repair itself. In the brain, there is a critical support cell called the oligodendrocyte progenitor cells (OPCs). The cells maintain the brain's supply of myelin, which multiple sclerosis effects. This cell helps repair damage from loss of myelin. Therefore, without the cell, the myelin stays damaged. Still, more research is needed to study this occurrence. There has not been any method of stopping the protein or increasing the cells that have been discovered.

What triggers herpes and MS outbreaks?

Stress is a large contributor to multiple sclerosis outbreaks. When you add herpes on top of that, it creates a domino effect. This is uncomfortable for the person. If you suffer from both conditions, it might be a good idea to decrease stress. Some techniques to decrease stress are getting good sleep, exercising and taking time for yourself. Mental health support through therapy and support groups is also available. Find different avenues in your community.

Beyond mental health, lifestyle choices are crucial to your health. Other environmental stressors, like smoking and heat, can affect MS and herpes. Anything that degrades your overall health will impact these diseases. Even medications can sometimes have a negative effect. Be sure to talk to your doctor to ensure that your current medications will not interfere with any outbreaks. However, medications can also prevent immune system fare ups from the herpes virus. Infections are about a third of the flare ups that MS patients have. This means keeping healthy is an important part of treatment. Being in tune with your body will help you infinitely. It is always good to be aware of your mental and physical health. In this case, it can also help you get treatment quickly if you experience an outbreak.

Treatment for MS and herpes

MS has many treatment options. The most common treatment is corticosteroids. These include prednisone and methylprednisolone. which reduces nerve inflammation. Plasma exchange is another option, along with other disease modifying options. Otherwise, work to keep yourself healthy. Get lots of rest. Have a healthy diet and exercise. While this might be difficult, you should also try to protect yourself from getting infections and viruses. If you notice someone is sick or has a virus like herpes, take precautions to protect yourself. If you have herpes, there are medications to take. Valtrex and Famvir are two medication options. These medications can suppress the virus. There is also many natural supplements and treatments to help with the symptoms, like pain.

The bottom line

All this information is a lot to unpack. While it is great news that the herpes virus doesn’t cause MS, that may not help if you suffer from both diseases. Therefore, it is important to understand how the virus works and its neurological effects. In the future, there may even be a cure for multiple sclerosis or protection of the myelin. If you think you may have herpes and already have multiple sclerosis, you might want to get tested. Talk to your doctor about any symptoms you are experiencing. From testing, your doctor can diagnose you properly. Controlling herpes may alleviate any symptoms from the disease comorbidity.


University of Rochester Medical Center. "Hidden herpes virus may play a key role in MS, other brain disorders." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 July 2017.