The Grapevine

Herpes In Space Could Be A Problem For Space Tourists, NASA Reveals

Amid the growing interests of the industry to promote tourism in space in the future, people might rethink their ambitions to fly outside Earth ... because of herpes. NASA has released a new study stating that the virus is actually more active in space. 

The agency found that dormant herpes viruses reactivated in more than half the astronauts who traveled in orbit and worked at the International Space Station. These findings pose potential problems for future deep space missions, NASA said. 

"During spaceflight there is a rise in secretion of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which are known to suppress the immune system,” Satish Mehta, study author and a researcher at Johnson Space Center, said in a press release. "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."

The findings, published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology, show that astronauts working in orbit had high amounts of herpes virus in their urine and saliva than before or after space travel. Mehta and her team suggested that stress during spaceflight potentially triggered the release of herpes.

"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," Mehta said.

The researcher added that social separation, confinement and an altered sleep-wake cycle are also among the potential stressors causing more herpes virus activity. The NASA team also found that the longer astronauts stayed outside Earth the more virus activity was found in their bodies. 

Such problem could affect deep space travel in the future. 

"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," the researchers stated in their study. 

However, NASA noted symptoms were rare during the study since only six out of 89 astronauts experienced herpes breakouts in space. Herpes virus is known to be transmitted through oral secretions or sores on the skin and during sexual contact with someone who has a genital infection.