It’s tough. On the one hand, “herpes from space” sounds terrible. On the other hand, if you’re going to have herpes, space herpes definitely has the most cachet among any of the herpes varieties. And on the third hand, it’s a great name for a punk band.
For the moment, though, herpes from space isn’t any kind of band, but a real problem plaguing the good men and women of NASA. But let’s be clear: astronauts are not engaging in unprotected sex in zero gravity – as far as we know – and neither are they doing the nasty with unhygienic aliens.
No, what’s happening is the stress of space travel is having a deleterious effect on the immune system, causing dormant herpes cases to flare up in a most inconvenient manner. A study published in Frontiers in Microbiology found that 53 per cent of astronauts on short-term space shuttle flights showed signs of herpes. Microgravity, cosmic radiation and the force of take-off cause a surge in stress hormones, which suppress the immune system, which allows the insidious herpes to run rampant.
What’s more, astronauts’ immune cells stay weak and ineffectual for up to 60 days after their mission. All in all, it kind of sucks to be an astronaut. If it weren’t for the whole “getting to go into space” thing, it’d hardly be worth it.