-- Robert Preidt
FRIDAY, Aug. 29, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Astronauts may be at
heightened risk of illness because space travel appears to disrupt
human immune systems, a new study suggests.
That could be a real problem on any long missions to asteroids,
the moon and Mars undertaken in the future, because getting a cold
or flu while in space can be dangerous, NASA researchers say.
They found that the distribution of immune cells in the blood of
International Space Station crew members remains relatively
unchanged during their time in space. However, some immune cell
activity is much lower than normal, while other activity is
The NASA team described the space station crew members' immune
systems as being "confused." Reduced immune cell activity may
prevent an appropriate response to threats from germs or viruses,
while increased activity may lead to excessive responses that
result in problems such as increased allergy symptoms and
Astronauts' immune systems are likely being altered by many
factors associated with the overall spaceflight environment, added
Brian Crucian, a biological studies and immunology expert at
"Things like radiation, microbes, stress, microgravity, altered sleep cycles and isolation could all have an effect on crew member immune systems," he said in a NASA news release. "If this situation persisted for longer deep space missions, it could possibly increase risk of infection, hypersensitivity, or autoimmune issues for exploration astronauts."
Crucian and his colleagues analyzed the blood plasma of 28 space
station crew members before, during and after their missions. The
study was published recently in the
Journal of Interferon & Cytokine Research.
It's not known if the immune system changes that occur during
spaceflight increase astronauts' risk for health problems during
long missions, and further research is needed to determine if that
is the case, Crucian said.
The U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
has more about the
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