Is Alzheimer’s Disease Contagious? Caused By Infection? Possibly-Yes
Is Alzheimer’s disease contagious, just like a virus? Can you get it through contact with an Alzheimer’s patient? Or even through a germ, or bacteria, just like you can get sick from someone who has a cold? Are bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites, the true catalysts for this dreaded disease?
After all of the PR about amyloid plaques forming in the brain, this bacteria theory sounds far fetched to you, right? But, consider that Dr. Leslie Norins of Naples, Florida is offering 1 million dollars of his own money to research if Alzheimer’s disease is caused by a germ. Norins, is a physician turned successful medical publisher, and wants to know if Alzheimer’s is caused by an infection.
Norins received his medical degree from Duke in the early 1960s, and after working at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he transitioned to a career in medical publishing. He focuses on research into dementia and alzheimer’s disease.
In 2017, Norins launched Alzheimer’s Germ Quest Inc., a public benefit corporation focusing on the connection between germ theory and Alzheimer’s.
He believes, based on review of the medical literature, that a germ causes most cases of alzheimer’s. He calls it the “Alzheimer’s germ”.
Alzheimer’s Disease: The Case For Infection-Bacteria Involvement
The idea that this disease can be caused by germs has recently garnered more attention and credibility. A good deal of this interest is motivated by the lack of progress in finding a cure. Millions of dollars spent on finding the magic drug has ended in bitter disappointments.
Many drugs that looked very promising in Stage-2 clinical trials, fizzled out and crashed, when tested in the next, critical Stage-3 trials. Right now, the only certainty is that the aging population is increasing, and with it-the number of Alzheimer’s disease patients is expected to triple by 2050.
This can correctly be defined as an epidemic. Right now the National Institutes of Health(NIH) is spending over 2 billion dollars a year on Alzheimer’s research.
Alzheimer’s Disease: Research History
The case for infection-bacteria involvement in Alzheimer’s is not recent. In fact, in the early 1900’s, Czech physician Oskar Fischer and his colleague, Dr. Alois Alzheimer, noted a possible connection between the newly identified dementia and tuberculosis.
In 2016, 32 researchers from universities around the world signed an editorial in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease calling for “further research on the role of infectious agents in Alzheimer’s causation.” The authors concluded that clinical trials with antimicrobial drugs in Alzheimer’s are now justified.
Another study in 2017, published in The Journal of the American Geriatric Society, found that people whose spouses have dementia are at a six-times greater risk for the condition themselves. This suggests that contagion may be a factor.
And, furthermore, in June 2018, a study published in Neuron suggested that viral infection can affect the progression of Alzheimer’s. Mount Sinai genetics professor Joel Dudley, compared the genomes of healthy brain tissue with that affected by dementia.
Dudley’s team noticed an unexpectedly high level of viral DNA from two human herpes viruses, HHV-6 and HHV-7. The viruses are common and cause a rash called roseola in young children (not the sexually transmitted disease caused by other strains).
The researchers also noticed that herpes appeared to interact with human genes known to increase Alzheimer’s risk. They concluded that there could be a toxic combination of genetic and infectious influence that springs the disease; a result of an overactive immune system.
Harvard neuroscientist Rudolph Tanzi suggests an interaction between microbes and defective proteins that results in amyloid and tau plaques in the brain. But, are the plaques the catalysts?
Tanzi believes that in many cases of Alzheimer’s, microbes are the igniter. Early in the disease amyloid protein builds up to fight infection, yet too much of the protein begins to impair function of neurons in the brain. The excess amyloid then causes another protein, called tau, to form tangles, which further harm brain cells.
Tanzi explains, the ultimate neurological insult in Alzheimer’s is the body’s reaction to this neurotoxic mess. All the excess protein revs up the immune system, causing inflammation — and it’s this inflammation that does the most damage to the Alzheimer’s-afflicted brain.
Alzheimer’s Disease: Future Treatments?
What will future treatments look like? Dr. Tanzi envisions a day when people are first screened at 50 years old. If amyloid plaques are found, they are treated with antiviral medications. He says this approach is similar to prescribing drugs if your cholesterol is too high.
Tanzi feels that microbes are just one possible explanation for the complex pathology behind Alzheimer’s. Genetics may also play a role, as certain genes produce a type of amyloid more prone to clumping up. He also feels environmental factors like pollution might contribute.
If a microbe is responsible for all or some cases of Alzheimer’s, both Tanzi and Norins believe Alzheimer’s vaccines will be commonplace.
In July of this year, Dr. Norins and the Infectious Diseases Society of America announced they will offer two $50,000 grants supporting research into a germ association with Alzheimer’s. While the amount of money is a pittance compared to what is currently spent, it provides mainstream status to investigate the link between infections and Alzheimer’s disease.
After all, says Dr. Norins, we now know that ulcers are caused by a germ.