There are all sorts of activities that an outbreak of herpes can prevent you from participating in. From mountain biking, to swimming, to just about any physical activity, if you’ve got an active herpes flare up, chances are you’re going to stay at home. If your herpes isn’t flaring up at the moment, thanks to advancements in medicine, you can live a pretty active, normal lifestyle.
As it turns out, traveling into the farthest reaches of the cosmos, deep into outer space may be another thing entirely. Those brave cadets who were thinking of signing up for the new Space Force may need to consider whether they’ve dealt with the herpes virus before. If so, maybe they’ll want to keep their service earthbound.
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In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream (About Your Interplanetary Herpes Flare-Up)
Haaretz recently reported on something that NASA announced in Frontiers in Microbiology that might scare off potential outer space pioneers — at least if they’ve ever had herpes.
More than half the astronauts who flew on the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station suffered reactivation of latent herpes infection. (Haaretz)
Astronauts assigned to the space station, or to longer missions, have a higher risk of their herpes infections coming back, according to NASA data.
Shuttle missions usually last 10 to 16 days while missions to the space station are typically longer than 180 days, explains Bridgette Rooney of the GeoControl Systems Corp. in Houston, with people from NASA, the University of Colorado, and KBR Wyle Laboratories Houston.
If he were real, I’d feel kind of bad for Capt. James Tiberius Kirk. Can you imagine the kind of herpes flare-up a 5 year mission to seek out new life forms and civilizations would cause in a normal Starfleet captain? Kirk was a walking, talking human erection for most of the show, and while I will always applaud his lack of racial or even species bias in his sex partners, this new data shows Kirk would do well to have Bones carry an extra hypo of Valtrex on all his planet side excursions.
Apparently, despite traveling into space, the conditions that herpes most needs to thrive are still very much so present. In truth, a herpes flare-up in space functions pretty much the same as a herpes flare up back home.
Like on land, the virus awakes from dormancy and is reproduced in the astronauts’ skin cells, and appears in their body fluids. Like on Earth, stress has a lot to do with it, the scientists explain. At least most of the space cases were asymptomatic, they say.
If every day, average stress factors can cause herpes outbreaks, imagine the kind of stress someone piloting a space shuttle, or conducting expensive and important scientific experiments in space feels. Everything an astronaut experiences during the mission is something that can exacerbate 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,” explains the senior author, Dr. Satish Mehta of KBR Wyle. “This physical challenge is compounded by more familiar stressors like social separation, confinement and an altered sleep-wake cycle.”
In fact, herpes may not be the only virus that can come roaring back in space. NASA scientists have found that astronauts’ entire immune systems are under duress. What’s more, the effects of space flight on their bodies doesn’t wear off for a couple of months after they’ve returned home.
Indeed, they also found that the astronauts’ immune systems, particularly the white blood cells that normally vanquish viruses, become less effective during spaceflight, and may stay subdued for as much as two months after the flight, they say.
The numbers are truly quite extraordinary. If your loved one is an astronaut who dealt with herpes before, you all may want to decide on a waiting or “Cooling Off” period for when they come home. That celebratory intimacy might be fun, but they could still be in the middle of an active herpes outbreak.
“To date, 47 out of 89 astronauts on short space shuttle flights, and 14 out of 23 on longer ISS missions shed herpes viruses in their saliva or urine samples,” Mehta stated. That, as said, is a lot, compared with their own samples before or after flight, or from healthy controls.
And while it’s true that a very small number who had a recurrence of their herpes reported symptoms, the implications for colonizing are huge, because that would require procreation and birth in space.
Only six of the astronauts reported symptomatic herpes, but asymptomatic need not be benign – especially on future, so far imaginary, long-term missions that would need to involve births. Space babies could be at terrible risk.
Here’s hoping there’s a herpes vaccine in the near future, so that the possibility of humankind getting of Earth and successfully creating new civilizations in space isn’t dampened by things like raging space herpes.
Writer/comedian James Schlarmann is the founder of The Political Garbage Chute and his work has been featured on The Huffington Post. You can follow James on Facebook and Instagram, but not Twitter because he has a potty mouth.