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Common virus may ride up nose to brain

Herpes bug travels in olfactory cells, researchers suggest

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3:07pm, August 8, 2011

A common virus may slink into the brain through the nose. After setting up shop in people’s nasal mucus, human herpesvirus-6 may travel along olfactory cells right into the brain, researchers report online the week of August 8 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Most people’s first bout with HHV-6 comes at a tender age: It causes the common childhood infection roseola, marked by a chest rash and a high fever. “Everyone is exposed to this,” says study coauthor Steven Jacobson of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in Bethesda, Md. “You have it. I have it.”

Despite its ubiquity, very little is known about the virus. HHV-6 may live in tonsils and shed in saliva, some studies suggest. And in some people (researchers don’t know how many), the virus can infect the brain, where some researchers believe it may contribute to neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis, encephalitis and a form of epilepsy.

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