NASA is fighting a war in orbit – against space herpes.
According to a NASA researchers study published in this month's issue of Frontiers in Microbiology magazine, astronauts aboard the International Space Station and other missions have been affected by a resurgence of the virus that often sleeps due to stress of space travel.
About 53% of astronauts participating in short-term space shuttle flights show signs of herpes, according to Satish Mehta, the study's lead researcher.
Exposure to microgravity and cosmic radiation as well as take-off force wreak havoc on the immune system of space travelers.
"During spaceflights, the secretion of stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, is known to suppress the immune system," said Satish, a researcher at the Johnson Space Center.
"In the same vein, we find that the immune cells of astronauts, especially those that normally suppress and eliminate viruses, become less effective during spaceflights and sometimes up to 60 days later. "
This could be dangerous during long spaceflight missions, such as those that hurt – uh, soar! – To Mars, said the researchers.
A total of 47 astronauts on short space shuttle missions and 14 out of 23 long missions had signs of the virus.
"These frequencies – as well as the amount – of viral shedding are significantly higher than in pre- or post-flight samples, or corresponding healthy controls," Satish said.