Almost every single human adult in the world has one of the eight most popular strains of the herpes virus. Have you ever wondered how such a tiny organism can be so successful? It has to do with not replicating too quickly and the ability to stay dormant for extended periods of time, but also the incredible resilience of this nasty bug. NASA has shown interest in testing the limits of that durability and have shot several strains of herpes into space.
NASA is now funding an ongoing study with the University of Florida to see how spaceflight can activate dormant strains of herpes in astronauts. They are doing this by taking samples from astronauts who have one of the eight strains of Herpes simplex, but also by putting petri dishes with viral colonies on them through spaceflight, and seeing how they fare. Of the eight strains, at least four have been shown to be able to replicate in space and be reactivated. Because spaceflight is so stressful for the human body, the immune system of astronauts is greatly taxed while in space, and so the immune system is less able to handle the herpes virus and keep it dormant, and thus outbreaks can be triggered. The studies should conclude in 2018, and we should have a much better understanding of both the virus and how it affects us by then.
The herpes simplex 1 that is responsible for oral herpes is among the eight strains that is able to reproduce in space, and that seem to be triggered by spaceflight. This is bad news because this is the virus that almost all of us are infected with to some degree, and this means that astronauts might have a hard time, but it also shows what a resilient bugger we are up against. The best way to treat the herpes virus is to keep your immune system healthy by having a balanced diet, getting plenty of rest and exercise, but keep some antiviral medication, like a herpes cream or ointment handy, because if an outbreak starts, it is best to treat it early.