Cold sores linked to cognitive decline
March 26th, 2013
10:04 AM ET

Cold sores linked to cognitive decline

The virus causing your cold sore may put you at risk for something more insidious: Lower cognitive abilities.

In a study of 1,625 people, researchers at Columbia University measured specific antibodies to common infectious agents in each person's blood, and using this information, created an "infectious burden index." Participants higher on the infectious burden index were more likely to have worse cognition, or cognitive abilities.

The study, published Monday in the journal Neurology, further suggests a link between cognitive decline and herpesviridae viral infections in particular, which previous studies have also linked to Alzheimer's disease and risk of stroke, an accompanying editorial notes. Herpesviridae is a family of viruses including HSV-1 or herpes simplex virus-1, which causes cold sores and can cause genital herpes, and HSV-2, which commonly causes genital herpes.

For the study, researchers tracked participants for eight years, giving them tests to measure cognition each year, but found no link between decline in abilities and viral infections over that period. The associated decline occurred before the study even began; the participants infectious burden index score did not make that person more or less likely to experience cognitive decline over the course of the study.

Only physical activity significantly reduced the association between infectious burden and cognitive decline, researchers found.

A study starting with younger participants - this study's average was 69 years old - and over a longer period may reveal more about how the decline progresses over time, says Dr. Mira Katan, the lead study author.

"While this association needs to be further studied, the results could lead to ways to identify people at risk of cognitive impairment and eventually lower that risk," said Katan in a statement.

"For example, exercise and childhood vaccinations against viruses could decrease the risk for memory problems later in life."

"This is a fascinating area which certainly deserves a treatment trial," says Dr. Timo Strandberg, author of the editorial, from the Department of Medicine, geriatric clinic, at the University of Helsinki (Finland) and University Hospital in Helsinki. "We are currently planning one... just remember what a paradigm change there was in ulcer disease in the 1980s. Of course this could have great potential if proved to be right. Nevertheless, old age AD (Alzheimer's disease) is a multifactorial geriatric syndrome (in my opinion), so several factors are contributing at the individual level."

However, said Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of the preventive medicine department at Vanderbilt University's School of Medicine, "They cannot impute causal associations, these are just interesting phenomenon."

"My concerns are, who are these people who are drawn into these studies? Because they're not a representative population," says Schaffner, who was not involved in the research. "They of course have had a dropout rate, so I'm just very cautious about what we can conclude from this association."

But Schaffner says he finds the study "intriguing and provocative"  He says, "The more we pick at this and find infectious disease antecedents for chronic illness, the more provocative it is, because it opens up more doors for prevention."

soundoff (336 Responses)
  1. K

    Or only dumb people still get STDs.

    March 26, 2013 at 10:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Phillip

      It's not just an STD you moron. Cold sores are easily passed between family members kissing their babies on the lips or children eating/drinking after someone. Get yourself an education.

      March 26, 2013 at 11:02 | Report abuse |
    • M

      I guess I was dumb for sharing my sippy cup as a toddler. Because that's how I got my cold sores. (as if I needed another reason to hate them) ugh!

      March 26, 2013 at 11:03 | Report abuse |
    • lucas

      You should get checked for STDs.

      March 26, 2013 at 11:06 | Report abuse |
    • Patrick

      Yeah I suppose I'm a moron for going to the dentist when I was a Senior in High School.

      March 26, 2013 at 11:33 | Report abuse |
    • M

      I was so young and foolish!

      March 26, 2013 at 12:04 | Report abuse |
    • KCS

      K... you will be pleased to know that the virus that causes cold sores is more than likely in your body. Something like 85% of the population has it, just it doesn't become active.

      March 26, 2013 at 12:45 | Report abuse |
    • anti-K

      dumb people are opposed to curing disease, regardless of the transmission vector.

      Herpes is a skin disease and can infect anywhere by various means.
      HSV-3 is Chicken pox and has infected 97% of the population.

      perhaps your lack of dumbness is because of blind luck.

      March 26, 2013 at 13:21 | Report abuse |
    • olmeckitty

      Huh? I need to put something on this cold sore. kidding aside, this article is horribly written.

      March 26, 2013 at 13:55 | Report abuse |
    • TeddyBass

      So that means you have them?

      March 26, 2013 at 13:58 | Report abuse |
    • SilentPro21

      Lol That would be too easy.

      March 26, 2013 at 14:22 | Report abuse |
    • parvo00

      HSV-1 isn't an STD.

      Other than that your comment is completely relevant...

      March 26, 2013 at 14:44 | Report abuse |
    • Maelius

      @Parvo00 HSV-1 can certainly be contracted sexually. This is also one of the tests on a full STD panel.

      As far as only dumb people get STDs, your ignorance is a perfect example of someone who probably has never been tested before.

      March 26, 2013 at 15:44 | Report abuse |
    • Anna

      Thank goodness for viradux-coldsore. The only effective cure for HSV1 and HSV2. Before you haters flame me, saying there is no cure, look at their website.... there are links to the gen3 research that led to these new products.

      April 13, 2013 at 11:56 | Report abuse |
    • melmurphy

      @Anna, there is no cure for HSV 1 and or 2. The only things available are anti-viral drugs which assist in suppressing the virus. However, at this time there is no cure.

      April 15, 2013 at 09:26 | Report abuse |
  2. FoolKiller

    So diseases take a toll on your mental and physical wellbeing?
    What a novel idea!

    March 26, 2013 at 11:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • bellaterra66

      You put a big smile on my face! You hit it right on the head! LOLOLOLOL

      March 26, 2013 at 12:02 | Report abuse |
  3. myreply

    correlation does not imply causation. this just shows there's a link between the two.

    March 26, 2013 at 11:20 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bob

      Correlation does not PROVE causation. It can SUGGEST causation and lead to further research to PROVE causation. Correlation studies are very valuable and are typically the first step in the research process to find out how diseases affect the body.

      March 26, 2013 at 11:50 | Report abuse |
    • SixDegrees

      Sure. And that link deserves careful attention now that it's been noted.

      March 26, 2013 at 11:59 | Report abuse |
    • flying Teabags reply

      save America, balance the budget and switch back to gold as the definitive measure of real money.

      first we cut back medical research, then eliminate it. only private for-profit companies should have such knowledge derived through the expensive process of understanding the difference between correlation, cause and effect, cure and prevention. And these companies should be given massive tax breaks for their trouble.

      for the rest of us, ignorance is bliss. back to work, your master is calling.

      March 26, 2013 at 13:33 | Report abuse |
  4. Health history police force

    So now on a job application you will be asked about your cold sore history
    and if you say yes you will not be hired, what a wonderful world this is becoming.

    March 26, 2013 at 11:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Oogie

      The really sad thing is that you will probably be right the way things are progressing.

      July 10, 2013 at 20:56 | Report abuse |
  5. AlongTheWay

    Forgot to list sooo many other things that are lowering the Human cognitive ability. Just a few: automated, think-for-you devices, programs, etc. (don't have to memorize anymore) or dumbing down of EVERYTHING, cars and elevators so we don't walk or use the stairs, chemicals in our foods, polution..... Well. I'll run out of space. We don't have to wait as long as the guy did in the movie "Idiocracy". It's already happening, and kidding ourselves that it's not. Or worse - blatently and loudly broadcasting that we have a right....do be this dumb. Cold sores? Least of our problems.

    March 26, 2013 at 11:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Upgrrayedd

      Scro, everyone should see Idiocracy. Nostradamus would be jealous of its accuracy. It is scary how on target it is and it was made a while ago (2006).

      March 26, 2013 at 12:30 | Report abuse |
  6. anon

    I work with a beautiful Latina and I want to ask her out. I haven't ever dated anyone I work with but for her I am willing to take a chance. We work in different buildings all together and only see each other every few months for a round of meetings but each time we see each other there is something there. She has a perpetual sore on her upper lip, usually barely noticeable once or twice in the past few years a full on blister. Is this a cold sore or the other simplex?

    March 26, 2013 at 11:41 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Diseased

      Do you really have to ask?? A recurring sore... A cold sore IS herpes 1. She is diseased and you will be too, eventually. Go for it.

      March 26, 2013 at 14:10 | Report abuse |
    • manyote

      How can you work with her but yet say you work in different buildings? But hey, there's no round trips in life and both of you are not getting any younger. Go for it. And suggest 'Abreva' ointment, and Acyclovir tablets once you get to know her.

      March 26, 2013 at 15:56 | Report abuse |
    • anon

      @Diseased – I know a cold sore is herpes but not all herpes are sexually transmitted. I just wonder about this one.
      @ manyote – our company has several office buildings throughout the city, we get together occasionally for meetings.

      but consensus seems to be "go for it" – I'm in 🙂

      March 26, 2013 at 16:16 | Report abuse |
    • Oogie

      Hey, hit it. And tell her about Campho-Phenique, the stuff works great. Use it right away when a sore starts, and 24 hours later they're gone.

      July 10, 2013 at 21:03 | Report abuse |
  7. eyeopener

    This report is incorrect. HSV1 can also cause genital herpes... in fact, most new cases of genital herpes are HSV-1. I think it is irresponsible of CNN to imply that HSV-1 is only oral. In addition, condoms may not protect from genital herpes as it is transferred by skin to skin contact, so if you have a sore in an area not covered by condom, you may pass it to someone else.

    March 26, 2013 at 11:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Js

      The report very clearly states that HSV1 can cause genital herpes....

      March 26, 2013 at 13:36 | Report abuse |
  8. oussu

    So much wrong with the way CNN writes stories, however the seroprevalence of HSV is greater than 60% of adults by the time they are in their 50s. So while this does not mean they have all had active infections, it does mean exposure at some point in their life was enough to elicit a sustained antibody response. Ergo, HSV exposure is closer to ubiquitous than 0, and of course it is correlated to neurological issues, it latently infects neurons and causes encephalitis. This story reported a whole lot of already known information. Poorly.

    March 26, 2013 at 11:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Ray

    Another fine article based on nonsense.

    March 26, 2013 at 11:51 | Report abuse | Reply
    • PuzzledInPeoria

      What chu tallkin' 'bout, Willis?

      March 26, 2013 at 13:55 | Report abuse |
  10. Use Lysine to minimize cold sores

    This article would be FAR more helpful if it mentioned the intake of Lysine to minimize cold sores. If you or a loved one suffer from them, research Lysine, consult your MD, but get Lysine supplements. My wife suffered for many years with stress triggered cold sores and Lysine daily has helped tremendously. Do your research and then try it.

    March 26, 2013 at 11:58 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SixDegrees

      Does it come with a duck call?

      March 26, 2013 at 12:01 | Report abuse |
  11. E

    Did the study test for people who had HSV 1 in their blood? Or just whether or not they got the sores? Most adults have HSV-1, but only a minority get the sores. Did the infection alone matter or was it the physical manifestation of sores that mattered in cognitive decline?

    March 26, 2013 at 12:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • ahayesCNN

      Hi E, thanks for your comments. You are correct that HSV-1 can cause genital herpes, although the Mayo Clinic says it's more commonly HSV-2. I can add that in the story.
      Regarding the second question, the study looked at antibodies in the blood created in response to exposures. Ashley Hayes, CNN

      March 26, 2013 at 12:39 | Report abuse |
    • melmurphy

      If you have the sores on your skin, it's going to be in your blood. This reason is because your body has antibodies, which are found in your blood, floating around trying to prevent a flare up.

      April 15, 2013 at 09:19 | Report abuse |
  12. aleksandra

    cold sores are not STDs!

    March 26, 2013 at 12:03 | Report abuse | Reply
    • diana horton

      @aleksandra–i have to disagree with you. cold sores can become a std. if you have a cold sore and have oral sex you will then get a std. i know this as this has happened to me. i am sharing this so others will know. i am now on valtrex to keep it under control. if you do not believe me google it. condems don't always protect you also. the best way to find out if you have a std is a blood test.may you all stay in good health.

      March 26, 2013 at 12:48 | Report abuse |
  13. Sunshine100

    E, very good questions. Seriously, wish you had researched and written this article.

    March 26, 2013 at 12:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. sw

    " The associated decline occurred before the study even began; the participants infectious burden index score did not make that person more or less likely to experience cognitive decline over the course of the study."

    What came first, the infection or the cognitive decline? if the infection and the decline both happened before the study begain, how do they know the correlation?

    March 26, 2013 at 12:17 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Charley

      I was waiting for someone else to mention this. I'm glad I didn't have to read through all these posts before I saw it.

      March 26, 2013 at 15:06 | Report abuse |
  15. Sunshine100

    I REALLY have to get more active! 64 yrs old. Had numerous head concussions, mild to severe (unconcious) from childhood into 20s. TIA (mild stroke) within past couple of years. Impaired memory and cognitive skills. Herpes (nose & lips). Diabetes II. I'm a mess and it's looking more and more like exercise is the #1 self-help tool available to slowing down, and improving, some of these medical processes. I may look drunk when I walk but the exercise is too important to worry about appearances.

    March 26, 2013 at 12:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. internetisgay

    It's unfortunate that there is no research being done for a cure, because curing diseases is not profitable. Big pharma wants to keep you buying 20 dollar, 0.7 oz bottles of abreva for the rest of my life.

    March 26, 2013 at 12:42 | Report abuse | Reply
    • your definitive knowledge comes from where?

      i guess my 23 years of HSV research for a non profit medical school is a sham.

      March 27, 2013 at 04:33 | Report abuse |
  17. Davis

    They need to find the person who found the money to conduct this study. I suspect it was taxpayer dollars. What disease makes people waste taxpayer dollars?

    March 26, 2013 at 12:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Caroline

      If we pay taxes to pay congressmen to do nothing, why not pay scientist to come up with nothing findings?

      March 26, 2013 at 13:07 | Report abuse |
    • PS

      Brain disease and cognitive decline in scientists!

      March 26, 2013 at 13:44 | Report abuse |
    • GMan

      The disease you are looking for is called "Liberalism."

      March 26, 2013 at 14:44 | Report abuse |
    • manyote

      And conservatism is a birth defect.

      March 26, 2013 at 15:59 | Report abuse |
  18. Willie12345

    Aren't cold sore an indicator of herpes ?

    March 26, 2013 at 13:19 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Juan

      Cold sores means herpes...

      March 26, 2013 at 15:50 | Report abuse |
  19. Willie12345

    " She has a perpetual sore on her upper lip." Next time you see her ask her about it. Be direct. No sense in taking any risks. She'll appreciate your frankness. If she don't know, offer to pay 1/2 of her medical cost to have it checked out. Kind of like a dutch date.

    March 26, 2013 at 13:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. PS

    Or only scientists on a cognitive decline can link cold sores to anything more than just a viral infection. I have seen some really smart people with cold sores!

    March 26, 2013 at 13:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. PeterD

    Cold sores are easily passed between family members kissing their babies on the lips.Why would stupid American family members kiss their babies on Lips and not on chiks?

    March 26, 2013 at 14:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Steve

      haha.. YA!.. stupid American families kissing their kids on the "chiks" ... Stupid Americans and their "chiks"

      March 26, 2013 at 15:20 | Report abuse |
  22. J. Davis in Knoxville, TN

    Thank you Dr. Gupta and Elizabeth Cohen for always keeping us up to date on the latest medical news. America appreciates you both!

    March 26, 2013 at 14:10 | Report abuse | Reply

    I didnt have a coldsore one till I git a little too close to that dancer in 96'. Just sayin.

    March 26, 2013 at 14:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Brad

    I'm intrigued more by the interest that STD's have gotten of late, what with the link between HPV and cervical cancer, and now this study. I'm wondering why all of a sudden has the medical community stood up and taken notice of viruses that they have long been telling people are 'no big deal' (yes, i know from experience), thereby adding to the problem of people spreading them for decades because they have been told by a doctor that it's 'no big deal'

    March 26, 2013 at 14:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Adam

    well... looks like I'm screwed. I've been getting cold sores since I was a little kid! Guess I'd better hit the gym!

    March 26, 2013 at 15:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Steve

    Haha... I can't help but imagine all the parents that are going to try to use this excuse for their stupid kids. "Well, you see... he gets cold sores..."

    March 26, 2013 at 15:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. mykroft

    For that matter, toxoplasmosis (which infects 10-20% of people in the US) can cause cognitive problems. You can catch that from handling kitty litter that has been infected.

    March 26, 2013 at 15:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. KJL

    Curious about the role of anti-viral treatment? Was that addressed? Were any of the study participants being treated for their HSV (with say, Valtrex)? Also: HA HA on the Schaffner quote, "... the more we pick at this..."

    March 26, 2013 at 15:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Syracuse

    I grew up in a large family and we all had cold sores as children. Maybe there's something genetic involved? Anyway, stress definitely causes the sleeping virus to wake and wreak havoc. The good news is that Valtrex does a tremendous job at keeping outbreaks to a minimum, with no side effects. PS: I have memory problems but that is because I'm old and don't exercise enough.

    March 26, 2013 at 16:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Keep them away easily

    No stress , no cold sore.

    March 26, 2013 at 23:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Eric

    Actually, only cognitively impaired people kiss other people with cold sores in the first place.

    March 26, 2013 at 23:28 | Report abuse | Reply
    • ihatecoldsores.com

      Actually the virus can spread with no sores present, it's called shedding. In fact many have the virus but are unaware as they don't display symptoms.

      March 27, 2013 at 07:27 | Report abuse |
    • melmurphy

      There is something called "shedding," however, the shedding process occurs while the sores are healing. With the assistance of anti-viral drugs, whether you have type 1 or type 2, one can prevent spreading the virus to others. Nonetheless, if one does have a flare-up, he or she, should wait up to 7 days before engaging in any sexual activity, as well as, skin on skin contact. The reason being that "shedding" process. After the 7 days, one should be fine.

      April 15, 2013 at 09:28 | Report abuse |
  32. worrier

    Does this correlation include shingles? There is no mention of it in the article but it is also a herpes virus and more common in older people.

    April 2, 2013 at 08:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • lisa stallings

      Shingles are really bad- and can cause real problems

      January 9, 2014 at 00:27 | Report abuse |
  33. donjgen

    I would say go back to the drawing board. Do some more research

    April 11, 2013 at 12:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. ihatecoldsores.com

    I've noticed a decline in memory over the years.. I'm not sure if it's related to my cold sores and I'm not sure if I should be relieved if it is? This isn't a superficial disease anymore, they need to get this under control now 🙁

    May 30, 2013 at 16:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. kaet_tt

    Does this effect those who have the virus, but never had an outbreak? I believe half of the population has the cold sore virus?

    June 17, 2013 at 20:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. kaet_tt

    It is not hard to treat however:

    June 17, 2013 at 20:21 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.