Herpes Virus

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A magnified look at what a virus looks like.

This is what a virus looks like up close.

On this page we will delve into the topic of two types of herpes: herpes simplex 1(HSV-1) and herpes simplex 2 (HSV-2) and various aspects of living with and learning about both.

For anyone living with genital herpes – the most common attempt at disclosure will be to compare the infection to that of oral herpes or “cold sores.” There always seems to be an underlying need to somehow “lesson” the severe perceptions that one may have by drawing attention to the herpes virus that is socially acceptable. Contrary to scientific fact, many believe there will always be a “good” herpes virus (oral herpes) and a “bad” herpes virus (genital herpes).

Based on the various up to date information resources and the assistance of Dr. H of Herpes.org, we will explore the two types of herpes based on varying criteria.

According to The American Social Health Association, under a microscope herpes simplex 1 and herpes simplex 2 are virtually identical, sharing approximately 50% of their DNA. Both herpes type 1 and herpes type 2 infect the mucosal surfaces of the body – most often the mouth or the genitals and then establish latency in the nervous system. For both herpes simplex 1 and 2, it is estimated that two thirds of those infected have no noticeable symptoms or no symptoms at all. Studies have shown that both herpes 1 and herpes 2 can be spread when there are no symptoms present.

The primary difference between herpes 1 and herpes 2 is their “site of preference” when establishing latency in the body. Herpes simplex 1 usually establishes latency in the trigeminal ganglion, a collection of nerve cells found near the ears. Recurring herpes outbreaks will generally occur around the mouth or facial region. Herpes simplex 2 usually establishes latency in the sacral ganglion, a collection of nerves found at the lower base of the spine. HSV-2 recurring outbreaks will generally occur in the genital region.

Though this is the most commonly noted difference, it is not absolute. Herpes simplex 1 and herpes simplex 2 can reside in either or both parts of the body and infect orally and/or genitally. Unfortunately, many are unaware of this and this lack of knowledge contributes to the ongoing spread and to the growing number of herpes type 1 genital cases being responsible for genital herpes.

With many years of believing that herpes type 1 is only related to oral herpes, many people are not aware that herpes type 1 can and is being contracted both orally and genitally and can cause genital herpes. So many people are under the presumption that there is that “Good versus Bad” herpes virus and with these beliefs social stigmas are thriving. While the “Good Virus” is believed to be “just a cold sore” – society has that euphemism to hide behind and don’t have to acknowledge that cold sores are indeed Herpes.

Common myths give indication that herpes simplex 1 causes a mild infection that is at times bothersome, but never dangerous. The reality is that herpes type 1 is usually very mild when affecting the lips, face or genitals. Herpes type 1 has been known to occur spontaneously in the eye “ocular herpes”. Ocular herpes can be very serious and could potentially lead to blindness. In some very rare cases, herpes has spread to the brain causing herpes encephalitis, an extremely dangerous infection that can result in death. These are however, Very rare! Herpes can be spread to the finger “herpetic whitlow”. Herpes is also quite common among wrestler’s “herpes gladiatorium” (a herpes infection of the chest or face).

Though society believes herpes type 1 to be the “Good Virus”, researchers are finding herpes type 1 to be more “risky” than previously perceived. Some medical professionals are finding herpes type 1 to be a more “significant” infection than herpes type 2 and the prevalence of herpes type 1 is severely underestimated.

Herpes type 2 is believed to be a painful and dangerous infection that affects people with an “overly active sex life”. This couldn’t be more false. Genital Herpes can infect anyone who has sex, even if only once. An estimated 25% of adults from varying backgrounds, income levels and ethnic groups have Herpes type 2 causing genital herpes. Herpes type 2 1s often so mild that an estimated two thirds of those infected don’t even realize they have it. Herpes type 2 rarely causes complications and more rarely spreads to other parts of the body.

Herpes type 2 is the most common cause of neonatal herpes, a rare but often dangerous and potentially fatal condition that affects newborns. Herpes type 1 is the primary cause of one third of neonatal infections. You can find comfort in knowing that both are completely avoidable with proper education, instruction and testing.

Because herpes type 1 and herpes type 2 have a “site of preference” both can behave very differently depending on the infected person. Herpes simplex 1 and herpes simplex 2 are quite common and neither poses a serious health threat. Due to their common existence in society, many health care providers dismiss them easily; even considering the long-term emotional effects a positive diagnosis of the herpes virus will have on their patient.

Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) – though not life threatening, it is stealing the quality of life of many of those who are infected. At the same time, many of us who carry the herpes virus, regardless of location, realize its common place in society and know it’s nothing more than a “cold sore.”

Herpes Outbreaks? And how often?

The physical problem that herpes poses is primarily based on the individual and three varying factors. Those being; the strength of their immune system, how long they have had the herpes virus, and is the herpes virus affecting the “normal site of preference?”

Obviously a challenged immune system will have a strengthening affect on many “viruses” and is the main reason people are bothered by more frequent outbreaks and the primary reason herpes types 1 and herpes type 2 are a greater threat to infants who have limited immune response. This also causes the herpes viruses to greatly affect those with compromised immune systems due to other illnesses such as cancer, HIV, severe burns, etc.

How long a person has the herpes virus also plays a large role in frequency of outbreaks. It is not clear why a decrease of herpes outbreaks occurs over time, but is believed to be due to the build up of antibodies in the infected persons system.

It is estimated that 100 million American’s who are infected with herpes simplex 1 contracted the virus as a young child. Due to the substantial time of living with the herpes virus, by the time they reach adulthood only about 5% will find it to be a medical problem and seek treatment.

The estimated 40 million American’s infected with herpes simplex 2 almost always acquired the virus as a teen or as a sexually active adult by having unprotected sexual contact with someone who has genital herpes. Those infected with genital herpes will, on average, experience 4-6 outbreaks that first year, with a decrease in outbreaks occurring over time.

Due to Herpes type 1 and herpes type 2 having their sites of preference and though HSV can account for both genital herpes and oral herpes cases, regardless of type, both are known to be milder when they are “outside their site of preference.” You could easily say the type located in its “site of preference” has the home court advantage.

An example of this is most people infected with herpes simplex 1 genitally have reported fewer genital herpes outbreaks if any in a single year. It is estimated that herpes simplex 1 now accounts for as many as 30% of all genital herpes cases in the U.S. and 2-5% of the recurring outbreaks are associated with the herpes type 1 virus.

Herpes type 2 oral infections are Very rare and in those few known cases, recurring outbreaks are extremely rare.

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