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article imageDo something really dumb today? Blame it on the 'stupidity virus'

By Karen Graham     Nov 12, 2014 in Health
When the media got hold of the story about a virus found in the throats of as much as 45 percent of the population, that was news. Learning the virus affects human behavior and cognitive thinking, they immediately called it the "stupidity virus."
Yes, it is true that scientists from Johns Hopkins University and the University of Nebraska came across the virus in throat samples from humans. But they have never called it a "stupidity virus." The virus in question, a chlorovirus called ATCV-1, was known to infect green algae found in lakes and rivers. The scientists discovered it in humans quite by accident.
In a study published in the October online journal PNAS, researchers explained that while studying the biological effects of microorganisms on human mucosal membranes (like the nose and throat), they came across the chlorovirus. It belongs to a family of large DNA viruses known to infect green algae, but has never been shown to infect humans.
The team was using throat swabs taken from healthy volunteers, and came across the ATCV-1 virus. At first, they didn't know what they had. The scientists carried out a search of the databases to learn more. They found out the virus had not previously been known to infect humans, so researchers ran cognitive tests on all 92 volunteers in the study. (This included the 42 percent of the volunteers with the virus present in their throats).
Study volunteers with the virus performed 10 percent worse on I.Q. tests than those volunteers who did not have the virus in their systems. Presence of the virus also "correlated with lower attention spans and a statistically significant decrease in visual processing and visual motor speed.”
It was also pointed out that while the virus is found in freshwater, there was no evidence linking the virus specifically to swimmers or boaters. There was no evidence linking the impaired brain function of those infected with the virus to age, sex, level of education, race, level of income or cigarette smoking.
Robert Yolken, a virologist at Johns Hopkins Medical School in Maryland told the Independent, “This is a striking example showing that the ‘innocuous’ microorganisms we carry can affect behavior and cognition. All people have physiological differences “encoded in the set of genes each inherits from parents, yet some of these differences are fueled by the various microorganisms we harbor and the way they interact with our genes."
Yolken said the "unintended study" shows us that behavior and psychology is not just derived from our genetic makeup. He says some of the traits we acquire may also be shaped and influenced by the millions of viruses, bacteria and fungi that inhabit our bodies.
Dr. Aaron E. Glatt, is a spokesman for the Infectious Disease Society of America. He says he is withholding judgement on a virus that can affect our intelligence, for now, anyway. “We don’t completely understand the full implications of viruses yet but they, obviously, can impact the functioning of cells and an entire organism with a myriad of outcomes,” he said.
As ABC News said, the next time you do something really dumb, like locking your car keys inside the car, or wearing a pair of mismatched socks to work, you can blame the faux pas on the stupidity virus.
More about stupidity virus, Algae, Johns hopkins, chlorovirus ATCV1, behavior and cognition
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