Tests show that dormant herpes viruses are reactivated by more than half of the astronauts traveling on the Space Shuttle and the International Space station, according to new NASA research – a phenomenon that the space agency says can cause problems for deep space missions.
"During the flight, there is an increase in secretion of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, which is known to suppress the immune system," said study author Satish Mehta, a researcher at Johnson Space Center, in a press release. "Accordingly, we find that astronaut immune cells – especially those that normally suppress and eliminate viruses – become less effective during space flights and sometimes up to 60 days later."
Published in research in the journal last month Limits in microbiology, Mehta and colleagues & # 39; s discovered that astronauts shed more herpes viruses in their urine and saliva than before or after space travel. The perpetrator, they say, is just the stress of space flight.
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"NASA astronauts are exposed to microgravity and cosmic radiation for weeks or even months – not to mention the extreme G-forces of starting and re-entry," Mehta said in the press release. "This physical challenge is exacerbated by more well-known stressors such as social separation, confinement and a changed sleep-wake cycle."
Fortunately, the symptoms were relatively rare. Of the 89 astronauts studied by the team, only six experienced herpes outbreaks in space, according to the newspaper – a percentage of about seven percent.
The viral shedding also got worse as the astronauts were off the earth longer, causing researchers to worry about the phenomenon, which could be a challenge for traveling in distant space.
"Although only a small proportion of symptoms develop, the reactivation rates of viruses increase with the duration of the space flight and can pose a significant health risk for missions to Mars and beyond," reads the press release.
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