Flu Triggers Parkinson’s

Photo courtesy NASA


Here’s news of an avian flu strain that makes you more susceptible to Parkinson’s, maybe Alzheimer’s, later on. The work is published in an upcoming PNAS and reports how mice surviving infection with an H5N1 flu strain are more likely than uninfected mice to develop brain changes associated with neurological disorders like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

The researchers note that around age 40 people begin losing brain cells. Most people die before they lose enough to get Parkinson’s. But now it appears the H5N1 avian influenza infection changes the curve, making the brain more sensitive to another hit, possibly from another infection, from a drug, or from an environmental toxin.

Flu is primarily a respiratory disease but indirect evidence dating back to 1385 links it to neurological problems, including the brain inflammation known as encephalitis. Some survivors of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic went on to develop Parkinson’s symptoms.

The study marks the first time scientists have naturally triggered a Parkinson’s-like protein build-up—something apparently not that hard to do with the H5N1 virus.
 

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  • Julia Whitty is the environmental correspondent for Mother Jones. Her latest book is Deep Blue Home: An Intimate Ecology of Our Wild Ocean. For more of her stories, click here.