Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system characterized by shaking, rigidity, slowness of movement and difficulty with walking and gait and later on, often by cognitive and behavioral problems.

British Columbia University researchers have discovered that the odds of developing Parkinson’s disease later in life doubles with severe influenza, although the discovered that those who contracted a typical case of red measles as children have a 35% lower risk.

The findings of the collaboration between researchers from UBC’s School of Population and Public Health and the Pacific Parkinson’s Research Center are published online in the July issue of Movement Disorders.

The researchers led by Anne Harris surveyed 403 Canadian Parkinson’s patients and 405 healthy Canadian controls to determine whether occupational exposure to vibrations, like operating construction equipment, had any impact on the risk of developing Parkinson’s. Harris and her team demonstrated in an earlier study, which appeared online in this month’s edition of American Journal of Epidemiology, that occupational exposure actually lowered the risk of developing Parkinson’s by 33% in comparison with those who were not exposed to vibrations during their work.

The team discovered in the meantime that people exposed to high-intensity vibrations, as caused by driving snowmobiles, military tanks or high-speed boats, had a consistently higher risk of developing Parkinson’s compared with those exposed to lower-intensity vibrations like operating road vehicles. Harris states that although the higher risk was statistically not significant to establish a correlation, it was nevertheless adequately strong enough and consistent to warrant further investigations.

Harris, who is working on her doctorate at UBC, concludes:

“There are no cures or prevention programs for Parkinson’s, in part because we still don’t understand what triggers it in some people and not others. This kind of painstaking epidemiological detective work is crucial in identifying the mechanisms that might be at work, allowing the development of effective prevention strategies.”

Written by Petra Rattue