If you find yourself constantly constipated but aren't sure why, you might want to have yourself checked by a doctor as it could be a sign of a viral infection.

A new study conducted by Yale University has found that developing chronic constipation may already be a symptom of genital herpes, a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by two strains of the herpes simplex virus (HSV).

Researchers saw that the microbe was very much capable of invading the spinal cord of its host and causing severe damage to the colon.

Herpes is known to affect an estimated 650 million people in the world. While many patients don't typically show any symptoms of infection, there are some that develop an outbreak of blisters in affected parts of their body.

About 15 percent of women who have been infected by HSV experience difficulty in passing urine. They may also develop rash, pain, sensory loss and even constipation.

To find out what exactly causes these additional symptoms, immunobiology professor Akiko Iwasaki and her colleagues at Yale examined a possible connection between the herpes simplex virus and problems with the digestive tract.

The researchers made use of mice models infected with the first strain of the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1). Mice typically show a different set of reactions to the infection compared to humans, but some of these symptoms are similar, such as difficulty in passing urine and constipation.

The team discovered that the HSV-1 was able to move from the genital area to their colon through the spinal cord in one-third of the mice models.

After invading the mice's colon, the HSV-1 caused significant swelling. The microbes also killed off the neurons in the colon and disrupted the animals' natural digestive process.

Iwasaki and her colleagues believe that this phenomenon occurs not only in mice but in human HSV hosts as well.

Iwasaki explained that other forms of the herpes virus, such as the chicken pox virus, cytomegalovirus and Epstein-Barr virus, have also been discovered to invade the colon of humans who develop chronic constipation.

She said that when doctors can't seem to find a possible cause for sudden chronic intestinal problems, their patient could have contracted a viral infection.

Avoiding Genital Herpes

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), genital herpes is one of the most common forms of sexually transmitted diseases in the United States. Recent data show that about one in every six Americans between 14 to 49 years old is infected with genital herpes.

The agency said the only way to avoid contracting this particular STD is to avoid having oral, anal, or vaginal sex.

If having sexual activity is unavoidable, people are advised to maintain a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who does not have STD, or at the very least use protection, such as latex condoms, every time they engage in sexual intercourse.

The results of the Yale University are featured in the June 8 edition of the Cell Host & Microbe journal.

Photo: Manuel Medina | Flickr

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