The common viral infection that increases risk for dangerous brain inflammation

The herpes virus is the most widespread epidemic in our country. In fact, 90 percent of adults will become infected with the virus at some point in their life.

Yep, 90 percent!

To get a little perspective, think about the obesity epidemic you probably hear a lot about. Yet, only two in three, or 67 percent of us, are considered overweight or obese compared to 90 percent who are infected with the herpes virus.

Now, it’s true that for the majority of people the virus lies dormant in their bodies. But, not for everyone…

While some people will get those classic herpes outbreaks that occur when the virus reactivates — causing sores on the lips or genitals — others could end up with a far more dangerous issue that affects the brain…

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Herpes simplex encephalitis

Herpes simplex encephalitis happens when that dormant herpes virus (HSV1 or HSV2) reactivates and spreads to your brain with the potential to cause such severe inflammation that it can be fatal.

Although it’s not common, it does affect about 2,000 people in the United States each and every year.

It has a devastating mortality rate if symptoms are not recognized and patients aren’t treated very quickly, with 70 percent of untreated patients dying. Unfortunately, even if you are treated, survivors usually suffer from serious neurological complications.

The problem is that it can also be very hard to diagnose in the early stages since it mimics the symptoms of other viruses. Common early symptoms include headache, fever, nausea, drowsiness, confusion, and sometimes seizures.

So, by the time the doctor realizes what you have and treats you appropriately, it’s often too late to avoid the worst of the damage.

Gut bacteria and your immune system

Luckily, a new study led by immunology experts at the City of Hope has discovered a way that could help boost the immune system to fend off a herpes viral attack that can cause that fatal brain inflammation.

The team found that a certain gut bacteria, known as Bacteroides fragilis (B. fragilis), promotes protective, anti-inflammatory responses during a viral infection.

In fact, they discovered that this bacteria can encourage your body to produce regulatory T and B cells that suppress the immune system from overproducing harmful inflammatory responses triggered by a herpes simplex virus infection.

During the study, the team found that mice pretreated with the probiotic survived a lethal herpes simplex virus infection, whereas mice pretreated with a placebo did not survive despite the fact that both groups were given Acyclovir, an antiviral that is the standard of care for herpes simplex virus encephalitis.

They say that the finding suggests that the probiotic optimizes your immune system to fight against viruses, especially those that induce damaging inflammation.

“This mouse study shows that B. fragilis PSA can temper the immune system so that infection does not result in an uncontrolled, potentially fatal inflammatory response in the brain,” said Edouard Cantin, Ph.D., and author of the study. “Although herpes simplex encephalitis is a rare brain inflammation disorder, the lessons we learned here might, with more research, be applicable to other viral infections such as other herpes viruses, influenza virus, West Nile virus and maybe even viral respiratory diseases – conditions where inflammation begins to jeopardize the health of your body and brain function.”

Probiotic protection

Not only could a probiotic be the key to combatting the herpes virus, but it could also provide protection from other dangerous viral conditions.

“It’s possible that consumption of certain prebiotics, probiotics or synbiotics may enhance your body’s natural ability to suppress inflammatory diseases,” says Ramakrishna Chandran, Ph.D., the study’s co-author. “Our study provides an exciting proof of principle that needs further research validation, but it seems reasonable that what you decide to eat may affect your overall health and ability to fight off disease.”

In other words, getting more probiotics in your diet could enhance your protection from viruses and the neurological inflammation they can cause.

Related: 7 Probiotic life hacks (slideshow)

Probiotic-rich foods and drinks include:

  • Kefir
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kombucha
  • Kimchi
  • Tempeh
  • Miso
  • Yogurt

And, you can also do what I do and take a daily probiotic supplement. Either way, you’re doing something good for your gut, your immune system, and your overall well-being.


  1. Herpes Simplex virus encephalitis — The Encephalitis Society
  2. Overweight & Obesity Statistics — National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
  3. Preclinical study: Probiotic-derived molecule may suppress fatal brain inflammation — EurekAlert!
Dr. Adria Schmedthorst

By Dr. Adria Schmedthorst

Dr. Adria Schmedthorst is a board-certified Doctor of Chiropractic, with more than 20 years of experience. She has dedicated herself to helping others enjoy life at every age through the use of alternative medicine and natural wellness options. Dr. Schmedthorst enjoys sharing her knowledge with the alternative healthcare community, providing solutions for men and women who are ready to take control of their health the natural way.