There are 100 known herpes viruses; only eight infect humans. The name “herpes” comes from the Greek ‘herpein’, which means, “to creep.” This describes the chronic, latent, or recurrent nature of these infections. They are extremely well-adapted pathogens, found nearly everywhere. They are essential to our human biome. A biome is any closely connected community of flora and fauna.
Herpes Simplex Virus-1 (HSV-1) most commonly manifests itself as cold sores or fever blisters around the mouth or on the face. It’s passed from person to person through direct contact. Most people naturally acquire HSV-1 by the age of one or two and carry the virus with them for the rest of their lives.
Like HSV-1, Herpes Simplex Virus-2 (HSV-2) manifests as sores or blisters around the genital area. HSV-2 is somewhat common infecting approximately one of every six people age 14-49 in the United States. Both HSV-1 and 2 can be contracted even if the person you are coming into contact with does not have symptomatic manifestations of the virus.
Varicella Zoster Virus (VZV/HHV-3) is an acute infection that leads to varicella, or “chicken pox.” It’s contagious through direct contact with a skin lesion or through airborne spread from respiratory droplets. Over 90% of today’s adults acquired the virus during childhood and lifelong immunity is boosted every time there is contact with an active case of wild chickenpox, but as fewer children are getting the acute illness, more adults are getting shingles which is a more serious form of the VZ virus.
Epstein-Barr virus (EBV/HHV-4) is also surprisingly common and widespread amongst human populations. It infects human B-lymphocytes and epithelial cells. HHV-4 typically spreads through bodily fluids, particularly saliva through kissing, sharing utensils, toothbrushes, etc., but it can also be spread through blood and semen during sexual contact, blood transfusions, and organ transplants. Most people contract EBV at some point in their lives, often during childhood. EBV is responsible for infectious mononucleosis as well as other illnesses.
Cytomegalovirus (CMV/HHV-5) is another member of the herpes family. 50%-70% of all adults are infected as well as 50% of all children. The most common manifestation is gastrointestinal upsets. Typically, most infected people will go through life never knowing they were ever infected.
Human Herpesvirus type 6 (HBLV/HHV-6) is most commonly associated with Roseola infantum or ‘sixth disease’. Onset is abrupt with a high fever lasting 3-5 days and is followed by a rash on the torso and spreading to the limbs and face as temperature subsides.
Human Herpesvirus type 7 (HHV-7) infects nearly all children by the age of 3 and is transmitted mainly through saliva. It is very similar to HHV-6 and has been found to be the cause of some cases of roseola. There is no childhood disease or definable syndrome that is associated with an acute HHV-7 infection. It is believed, however, that HHV-7 can contribute to the development of other conditions, or can reactive HHV-4, the Epstein – Barr virus (EBV).
Human Herpesvirus type 8 (KSHV/HHV-8) also known as Kaposi’s sarcoma, manifests as a connective tissue cancer. HHV-8 produces a malignant lesion characterized by neoplastic cells and abnormally growing blood vessels. KSHV/HHV-8 is highest in central Africa and has been found in the saliva of many AIDS patients. The infection rate is low in the USA and Western Europe with intermediate rates in Mediterranean countries.
Complications from HHV 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, are predominately seen if the immune system is compromised as a result of drug treatment, or suppression. Recent studies have revealed that contracting HHV in the form of chickenpox is in fact very beneficial to the developing immune system.
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References used for this content
1. The Case Against Universal Varicella Vaccination. International Journal of Toxicology, 2006 Sep-Oct;25(5): 313-317
2. Wu, P., Wu, H., et al. Varicella Vaccination Alters the Chronological Trends of Herpes Zoster and Varicella. PloS One 2013 Oct 30; 8 (10):e77709.
3. Miller, N.Z., Miller’s Review of Critical Vaccine Studies. 149-203. 2016 New Atlantean Press, New Mexico