'Strange' twist for viral version of Parkinson's: It may take decades for disease symptoms to appear

'Strange' twist for viral version of Parkinson's: It may take decades for disease symptoms to appear
Image: Monty Rakusen

In recent years, a mysterious surge of a Parkinson’s-like disorder spread around the world, causing an estimated 10-15% of the ten million worldwide Parkinson’s Disease diagnoses , baffling doctors and stunning scientists. For years, no one had any idea where the disease was coming from.

Until one common thread between the cases emerged.

Many of these patients were survivors of viral diseases that had infected the brain and led to viral encephalitis. Viral encephalitis is brain swelling and damage, which can occur when a virus infects the central nervous system and ends up in the brain.

The strange thing about this illness is how long the delay between infection and disease can be, throwing off a doctor’s diagnosis (it’s hard to diagnose a cause when it occurred decades before symptoms).

The researchers suggest that the increased number of immune cells in the brain could promote inflammation, causing more damage post-infection, also potentially leading to Viral Parkinsonism. The final findings together suggest that the loss of dopamine-producing nerve cells combined with alpha-synuclein aggregates from the viral infection partially explain how encephalitis from a virus can lead to Viral Parkinsonism later in life.