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Parkinson's Disease

PD caused by virus?

07/15/1999

Question:

A friend who has PD says her doctor told her that PD and hypoglycemia are "both caused by a virus". I thought the cause of PD was unknown....except for the cases resulting from the 1918 flu epidemic. Can the doctor be right? or is he thinking of the 1918 cases only? I don`t know if the doctor is a neurologist. Any comments?

Answer:

The cause for PD remains unknown. Postencephalitic parkinsonism is indeed due to a virus as you have indicated. However, the brain pathology in such patients does not resemble that seen in PD, so they are distinct entities. MPTP, a contaminant of illicit drugs also produced an epidemic of parkinsonism. This again is a distinct entity but suggests the possibility of toxins as a cause. Paraquat, a pesticide, has a chemical structure resembling MPTP. There also is some indication that PD may be more common in rural areas, perhaps related to pesticide exposure. All these however are speculations and there is no definitive evidence for any of these agents as specific causative factors for Parkinson`s disease.

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Response by:

Arif Dalvi, MD
Assistant Professor
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati