Some recent test showed that space travel does something to the human body and reactivates dormant herpes virus in more than half of the astronauts. That is the result of the latest NASA research conducted on astronauts who travel on the Space Shuttle and International Space station. This phenomenon, NASA scientists revealed, could expose astronauts in the future deep space mission to new health threats.
“During spaceflight, there is a rise in the secretion of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which are known to suppress the immune system. In keeping with this, we find that astronaut’s immune cells – particularly those that normally suppress and eliminate viruses – become less effective during spaceflight and sometimes for up to 60 days after,” said Satish Mehta, a researcher at Johnson Space Center, and the leading author of the study.
Mehta and co-workers observed that astronauts present more herpes viruses in their urine and saliva when in space than both before and after spaceflight.
Space Travel Reactivates Dormant Herpes Viruses In Astronauts, NASA Study Showed
“NASA astronauts endure weeks or even months exposed to microgravity and cosmic radiation – not to mention the extreme G forces of take-off and re-entry. This physical challenge is compounded by more common stressors like social separation, confinement, and an altered sleep-wake cycle,” Mehta added.
Luckily, even though space travel triggers herpes in astronauts, the virus is not affecting the majority of the astronauts. In NASA’s study, the dormant herpes viruses reactivated in 89 astronauts, but only six of them suffered herpes breakouts while in space. That means only 7 percent, which is quite low, the study highlights. However, that might be a problem for the astronauts who will participate in the future deep space missions, as the percentage might rise in that case.
“While only a small proportion develops symptoms, virus reactivation rates increase with spaceflight duration and could present a significant health risk on missions to Mars and beyond,” the press release on the NASA study reads.