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NASA Astronaut Kevin Ford trains with Ultrasound

Dormant viruses activate in astronauts during spaceflight

In recent years we have been doing a variety of research in space. This is possible only with the help of astronauts going to space and finding out new discoveries. In order to become an astronaut, it is mandatory to go through various tests and also be physically and mentally fit.

Astronauts do possess threat from the viruses already present in their bodies.

In our bodies, there are various viruses which are good or bad for our health. Sometimes even the good viruses in excess can harm our body. The astronauts need to take care of the viruses and they have to see that the virus doesn’t affect their health in the space and also during the spaceflight.


A research published by NASA in the Frontiers in Microbiology states that a virus called the Herpes Virus reactivates in more than half of the crew in the Space Shuttle and International Space Station Mission.

It is not that herpes virus comes into our body from somewhere, it is already present in our body and because it increases in number it leads to an infection called herpes. It is an infection which affects the mouth region and the external genitalia, anal region, mucosal surfaces and skin in other parts of the body. The symptoms include blisters, ulcers, pain when urinatingcold sores and vaginal discharge. Although there is no cure for herpes, it can be treated using medications and home remedies.

Herpes Infection

Herpes Infection (Credit: BruceBlaus/ Wikipedia)

If this virus increases during the spaceflight it may lead to significant health risk in the mission.

Dr. Satish K. Mehta of KBR Wyle at the Johnson Space Center mentions that the astronauts are weeks and sometimes months away on a research mission and also they are under extreme G forces during take-off and re-entry. Along with this, there are various stresses like an altered sleep cycle and also social separation.

In order to study the various effect on the astronauts’ body, Dr. Mehta and his colleagues studied the saliva, blood and urine samples collected from astronauts before, during and after spaceflight. It was observed that during the spaceflight there is an increase in the stress hormone cortisol and adrenaline which are known to suppress the immune system. It is also found out that the astronauts’ immune system cells particularly those that suppresses and eliminates viruses become less effective during spaceflight and sometimes for up to 60 days after.

Dr. Mehta reports that 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. These frequencies—as well as the quantity—of viral shedding are markedly higher than in samples from before or after a flight, or from matched healthy controls.

Dr. Mehta added that only six astronauts developed any symptoms due to viral reactivation. All were minor.

The magnitude, frequency and duration of viral shedding also increase with the length of spaceflight. As we prepare for various missions beyond the Moon and Mars, there is a risk that the herpes virus could reactivate and their contacts could become more crucial.  The only way in order to control this virus is to provide vaccinations to the astronauts.

Published Researchhttps://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmicb.2019.00016/full

About the author: Sai Teja Moderator
Sai Teja is a second-year computer science undergraduate at the University of Hyderabad. With expertise in many modern technologies like Machine Learning, he is also a blogger and has interests in digital marketing and SEO also. He has a dream to build a single internet destination for science and technology enthusiasts

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