The Herpes Virus – The Bigger Picture

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Understanding the Different Types of Herpes VirusThe two types of herpes simplex virus (HSV) that cause oral and genital herpes are actually part of a larger family of DNA viruses known as Herpesviridae.

The different species of this family of viruses are collectively known as herpes visruses. The 8 species of the family of viruses are the underlying cause of the following infectious diseases:

–        HSV-1 – oral herpes.

–        HSV-2 – genital as well as oral herpes.

–        Varicella zoster virus –chicken pox and shingles.

–        Epstein-Barr virus –mononucleosis.

–        Cytomegalovirus – generally asymptomatic infection that sometimes manifests as flu-like or glandular fever.

–        Human herpes virus 6 and human herpes virus 7 – sixth rash-causing childhood disease and measles

–        Human herpes virus 8 – Kaposi’s sarcoma.

The Inherent Nature of Herpes Viruses

All herpes viruses typically remain in the body all through life, a property of the virus that gives it its name. The word herpes is derived from the Greek word, herpein, which means ‘to creep’. After the initial infection, the virus creeps or moves stealthily along the sensory nerves to the sensory nerve cells, where it becomes latent, never to leave the body ever again.

This property of the herpes virus is responsible for the cyclical nature of herpes simplex infections including oral and genital herpes, the most common forms of herpes infection. After the initial infection, symptoms of which typically last between 2 and 21 days, there is a period of remission. Symptoms may recur after a period of latency.

Initial infection, when symptomatic, is characterized by signs that include:

–        Red blisters and yellowish fluid-filled blisters that break open and leak.

–        Flu-like symptoms that include fever and body aches.

–        Sore throat and fatigue.

Similar symptoms can be seen even in the case of Kaposi’s sarcoma, a tumor caused by herpes virus 8. In this case, lesions are palpable and raised nodules or blotches that are red, purple, brown, or black in color.

Herpes Virus Transmission

In almost all cases of the herpes virus, transmission is via skin-to-skin contact, sexual intercourse of any nature and direct contact with a lesion or body fluid of an infected individual. Herpes virus 8 or Kaposi’s sarcoma associated herpes virus is primarily transmitted through saliva.

Even when the infection is asymptomatic, transmission may occur through skin contact known as asymptomatic shedding. In roughly half the cases, asymptomatic shedding occurs a week or more before or after an outbreak or symptomatic recurrence.

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Herpes infections can be bothersome and rather distressing at times. Safe and effective treatments are available that can make living with Herpes a lot easier.

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