Herpes: Understanding the Virus and Its Treatment

Genital herpes is one of the most dreaded sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Learn about its causes, symptoms & treatment options.

Herpes: Understanding the Virus and Its Treatment

Genital herpes is one of the most dreaded and least known sexually transmitted infections (STIs). It is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV) and can affect the mouth or genitals. Unfortunately, there is no cure for the virus, but there are treatments that can reduce the symptoms and infectiousness of the disease. The treatment of choice for most people are oral guanosine nucleoside analogues, such as acyclovir, valacyclovir (prodrug of acyclovir) or famciclovir.

These medications can prevent or shorten outbreaks when taken daily. Acyclovir-resistant HSV strains are well described and are mainly observed in immunocompromised patients, such as those receiving a solid organ or hematopoietic stem cell transplant, people with hematological malignancies or AIDS, those receiving antithymocyte biological treatments, and those with congenital immunodeficiencies. Researchers are conducting additional preclinical studies on therapy in guinea pigs, which, unlike mice, naturally have recurrent outbreaks of latent herpes infections. The team solved that problem using a drug that stimulates the recurrence of herpes simplex type 1, or HSV-1, in mice.

In Hutch's herpes experiments, AAVs concentrate on groups of nerves that harbor the inactive or latent herpesvirus, and then the scissors get to work, attacking and cutting certain segments of the viral genes. This is encouraging news from researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, where laboratory studies aimed at curing herpes simplex virus infections have continued despite the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. If a person contracts any form of herpes virus infection, they will have it for life, whether they have symptoms or not. Herpes can hide in nerve cells for a long time before becoming active, making it difficult to find a cure. Herpes simplex viruses are chronic infections that highlight racial and ethnic disparities and affect adolescents in increasing numbers.

Some home remedies, such as petroleum gel or essential oils, may ease the discomfort caused by herpes lesions, but they won't help reduce viral load. Herpes viruses have an inner core containing double-stranded DNA surrounded by integuments and a lipid envelope. Herpes rash outbreaks usually affect the mouth or genitals, but they can appear anywhere on the body. HSV-1, particularly among the first infections in adults under 30, is becoming the main cause of genital herpes. Pregnant women with symptoms of genital herpes should see a doctor immediately as there is a risk of neonatal herpes.

If a virus outbreak occurs during pregnancy it increases your risk of premature birth and the fetus can get a fatal infection in the womb. Experts suggest that even if antiviral drugs destroy the active parts of the infection only a small amount of the virus is needed to hide in nerve cells and remain inactive so that the herpes virus continues to persist in the body. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that approximately 500 million people live with genital herpes worldwide and several billion have an oral herpes infection. This form of herpes can cause internal and external sores and blisters in the genital area which may appear several days weeks or months after exposure. Although there is no cure for genital herpes daily use of antiviral medications can prevent or shorten outbreaks. Antiviral medicines can also reduce the chance of infecting it to others.