Parkinson's disease risk lessened by childhood measles, doubled by severe 'flu
Severe influenza doubles the odds that a person will develop Parkinson’s disease later in life, however, the opposite is true for people who contracted a typical case of red measles as a child, according to University of British Columbia researchers. They are 35% less likely to develop Parkinson's disease in later adulthood according to a press release from the University of California - Berkeley issued on Friday, 20 July 2012.
Parkinson’s disease is a nervous system disorder which usually occurs in people over the age of 50, though it can occur at an earlier age. Michael J. Fox, for instance, was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease at only 30 years of age. The disease is marked by slowness of movement, shaking, stiffness, and in the later stages, loss of balance. It results when brain cells that make the neurotransmitter dopamine are destroyed, preventing the brain from transmitting messages to muscles.
Although some cases are genetic in origin with at least seven genes having been identified which can cause familial Parkinson's, the cause for most cases of the disease is still unknown; possible explanations include repeated head trauma, or exposure to viruses or chemical compounds.
The only definitive way to diagnose Parkinson's disease is through the post-mortem examination of brain tissue for Lewy bodies, abnomral clumps of protein within nerve cells. There is no cure for Parkinson's disease though there are medications available which help to delay the progress of the disease and manage the symptoms.
The findings by researchers at UBC’s School of Population and Public Health and the Pacific Parkinson’s Research Centre, published in the current issue of the journal Movement Disorders, are based on interviews with 403 Parkinson’s patients and 405 healthy people in British Columbia, Canada.
Lead author Anne Harris also examined whether occupational exposure to vibrations – such as operating construction equipment – had any effect on the risk of Parkinson’s. In another study, published online this month by the American Journal of Epidemiology, she and her collaborators reported that occupational exposure actually decreased the risk of developing the disease by 33 percent, compared to people whose jobs involved no exposure.
Meanwhile, Harris found that those exposed to high-intensity vibrations – for example, by driving snowmobiles, military tanks or high-speed boats – had a consistently higher risk of developing Parkinson’s than people whose jobs involved lower-intensity vibrations (for example, operating road vehicles). The elevated risk fell short of the statistical significance typically used to establish a correlation, but was strong and consistent enough to suggest an avenue for further study, Harris says.
“There are no cures or prevention programs for Parkinson’s, in part because we still don’t understand what triggers it in some people and not others,” says Harris, who conducted the research while earning her doctorate at UBC. “This kind of painstaking epidemiological detective work is crucial in identifying the mechanisms that might be at work, allowing the development of effective prevention strategies.”
Some information in this article was taken from a press release from the University of California - Berkeley issued 20 July 2012.
M. Anne Harris, Joseph K. Tsui, Stephen A. Marion, Hui Shen, Kay Teschke. Association of Parkinson's disease with infections and occupational exposure to possible vectors. Movement Disorders, 2012; DOI: 10.1002/mds.25077
M. A. Harris, S. A. Marion, J. J. Spinelli, J. K. C. Tsui, K. Teschke. Occupational Exposure to Whole-Body Vibration and Parkinson's Disease: Results From a Population-based Case-Control Study. American Journal of Epidemiology, 2012; DOI: 10.1093/aje/kws017