What is Herpes Simplex?

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Herpes simplex is a virus that belongs to the family herpesviridae, which includes many DNA viruses that affect animals, including humans. The family includes the following 8 types of viruses:

  • Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1)
  • Herpes virus simplex type 2 (HSV-2)
  • Varicella zoster virus (VZV)
  • Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)
  • Cytomegalovirus (CMV)
  • Human herpes virus HHV-6
  • Human herpes virus HHV-7
  • Human herpes virus HHV-8 or Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus

Structure

The herpes simplex virus is composed of an outer lipid bilayer wrapped around a protein cage called a capsid which contains a large double-stranded DNA genome. Around 50% of DNA is similar between HSV 1 and HSV 2.

Infection and incubation

The herpes simplex virus can be transmitted on sexual, intimate or skin-to-skin contact with an infected individual. Most transmission occurs during periods of viral reactivation in an infected individual but can also occur during latent periods.

The risk of transmission is increased if a person makes direct contact with a lesion or if they have small cuts or abrasions on the skin area involved in contact. Herpes can also be spread through contact with the saliva of an infected person, through kissing or even sharing drinks.

Once a person is infected, the virus rapidly replicates within the epithelial cells. This causes death of the epithelial cells and the virus then targets the axons or long fibres in nerve cells where it establishes latent infection.

Herpes simplex establishes permanent infection and cannot yet be eliminated from the body. After primary infection, there is a risk of recurrence and symptom outbreak in the future, especially in immunosuppressed individuals such as those with HIV or those who are receiving immunosuppressive therapy.

Symptoms and appearance

Symptoms include skin ulcers or lesions around the genital area in the case of HSV-2 or around the mouth in the case of HSV-1. Oral herpes is the most common form of herpes and genital herpes is the second most common.

Treatment

There is no cure for herpes. The virus persists in an infected person for years. Antiviral medications are used to control the symptoms of the virus and prevent viral replication and spread.

Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc

Sources

  1. http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Genital-herpes/Pages/Introduction.aspx
  2. http://www.hawaii.edu/hivandaids/Section%206%20%20%20Herpes%20Simplex%20Virus%20(HSV)%20Infections.pdf
  3. http://www.ndhealth.gov/disease/Documents/faqs/Herpes%20Simplex.pdf
  4. http://www.health.arizona.edu/health_topics/sexual_health/simplex.pdf
  5. http://arc.sdsu.edu/wellness/brochures/BROCHURES/Herpes.pdf

Further Reading

Last Updated: Dec 2, 2013

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Comments
  1. San Cecil San Cecil Australia says:

    There is a PubMed publication that shows a new hsv treatment called Dynamiclear outperformed topical acyclovir and was only a single dose therapy. Here is the link http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=22270204

    [1] Gupta, S. , et al., (2006), “A Prospective, Randomized, Multi-center, Comparative, Open label study to Evaluate the Safety, Tolerability and Efficacy of Dynamiclear topical solution in patients suffering from Herpes Simplex Infection (HSV 1 & HSV 2) aged between 18 and 55 years.” SC/111/06; Version 07, 31 May 06

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