New research out of Sweden has found that the virus behind common cold sores may heighten the risk for dementia.

A team of scientists from Uppsala University published a paper last week in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease suggesting that herpes simplex viruses (HSV) double a person’s chances of developing dementia.

HSV-1 tends to present as episodic cold sores around the mouth, whereas HSV-2 appears as blisters around the genitals. Both are highly contagious and spread through kissing or sexual contact.

The study involved tracking 1,002 70-year-olds from Uppsala over a period of 15 years. None had dementia at the outset of the study, yet 82% had HSV antibodies. Those with HSV antibodies ended up having over twice the chance of developing dementia than those without.

While 8% of those studied had received treatment for HSV, the authors noted that further research would need to be done to see whether this had any impact on the propensity of dementia.

Dementia is a brain condition affecting the elderly that progressively impairs their cognitive functions, such as short-term memory.

While some people might be at risk for dementia due to age and genetics, some lifestyle factors have been known to increase risk, such as being obese. Obesity, which is a growing problem in the United States, can seriously impact a person’s brain health at all stages of life, as previously reported by The Dallas Express.

Yet the new research suggesting that HSV, which affects as many as 80% of American adults, might be linked to dementia is astounding. Given the prevalence of these infections, the paper’s lead author, Erika Vestin, a medical student, hopes that the study will help drive new research initiatives into HSV.

“The results may drive dementia research further towards treating the illness at an early stage using common anti-herpes virus drugs or preventing the disease before it occurs,” Vestin said in a press release from Uppsala University.