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Herpes viruses reactivate in more than half of crew aboard Space Shuttle and International Space Station missions, according to NASA research published in Frontiers in Microbiology. While only a small proportion develop symptoms, virus reactivation rates increase with spaceflight duration and could present a significant health risk on missions to Mars and beyond.
NASA's rapid viral detection systems and ongoing treatment research are beginning to safeguard astronauts—and immunocompromised patients on Earth, too.
NASA - Weeks - Months - Microgravity - Radiation—not
"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," says senior author Dr. Satish K. Mehta of KBR Wyle at the Johnson Space Center. "This physical challenge is compounded by more familiar stressors like social separation, confinement and an altered sleep-wake cycle."
To study the physiological impact of spaceflight, Mehta and colleagues analyze saliva, blood and urine samples collected from astronauts before, during and after spaceflight.
Spaceflight - Rise - Secretion - Hormones - Cortisol
"During spaceflight there is a rise in 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."
In the midst of this stress-induced amnesty on viral killing, dormant viruses reactivate and resurface.
Date - % - Space - Flights - %
"To date, 47 out of 89 (53%) astronauts on short space shuttle flights, and 14 out of 23 (61%) on longer ISS missions shed herpes viruses in their saliva or urine samples," reports Mehta. "These frequencies—as well as the quantity—of viral shedding are markedly higher than in samples from before or after flight, or from matched healthy controls."
Overall, four of...
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