Everyone knows something about Herpes viruses
They are a very common cause of diseases and many of us was exposed to it since the youth. In fact Herpes virus 1 (HSV-1), the most common strain of this virus specie, is the main cause of cold sores and facial fever blisters. But HSV-1 can be the cause of another diseaser disease, genital herpes, that usually is caused by herpes virus-2 (HSV2), another and less common strain of herpes virus. Actually both herpes viral agents can cause oral or genital diseases even though are more frequent t HSV-1 oral infections and HSV-2 genital ones.
It’s interesting to note that are known other 8 strains of Herpes Viruses:
HSV-3, also known as Herpes Zoster, causes chickenpox, HSV-4, Epstein-Barr virus, causes mononucleosis, the “kissing disease”. HSV-5, the cytomegalovirus, is a viral agent that triggers difficult health complications in HIV affected patients. HSV-6 is responsible of Roseola, while HSV-7 and HSV-8 are rarest strains found in some rare health conditions like in Kaposi’s Sarcoma affected patients.
How common is Herpes simplex?
As we said before both HSV-1 and HSV-2 viruses are really common in human epidemiology, so common that World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that almost half human population are infected with HSV-1. An infection that involves 67% of people under the age of 50% or 3,7 billion people. WHO also estimates that HSV-2 has infected 417 million people under the age of 50. Taking into consideration both there’s half billion people under the age of 50 infected with Herpes virus in the world. In Australia it’s estimated tha 80% of adults are infected of HSV-1, while 12,5% of sexually active adults have contracted HSV-2.
Sources of infection are different for the two virus strains:
HSV-1 is mainly transmitted by salival and mouth sores contact and whereas HSV-2 is primarily transmitted through skin contact, tipically duting sexual intercourses. Kiss can be an easy way to pass the virus to other people. The role of education is crucial to prevent the spreading of the infection to young people especially before they become sexually active. To achieve this goal, many governments over the world have developed educational tools and programs to inform children and teenagers about the risks connected with genital herpes and other sexually transmitted diseases (STI). In the state of Victoria, Australia, a government funded program allows general practitioners to be present in secondary schools with the purpose to provide medical advice to young students. It’s also very important for sexual health management and for educational purpose the Australian family planning centers and clinics, where people, especially youngsters can have advice and support, tipically at low prices, on sexual related issues.
HSV viruses are so easy to spred not only because they are highly contagious, but mainly because once contracted you don’t really get rid of them
Herpes virus enters into a dormant state and sometimes it can reactivate, often with no symptoms while maintaining its infectiousness. The use of medicines like, for example, acyclovir based drugs like Zovirax or Valtrex can prevent outbreaks of Herpes virus, lowering the chance to infecting sex partners. But recent studies has shown that even patients treated with high dosage of these anti-herpes drugs can be contagious. A study has shown tha acyclovir treated patients are 50% less likely to infect other people than other herpes affected subjects: that’s a significant reduction but it’s insufficient to rule out contagion. To losen this chance it’s important to use condoms and don’t have sex while in an outbreak of the virus, because risk of transmission is higher from contact with genital blisters. The risk of contracting genital herpes is always higher for a female from a male partner than vice versa. HSV-2 infection is, in fact, more common among women than among men: in Australia prevalence of HSV-2 is 16% in adult women, almost double than prevalence in men adult population at 8%.
Antiviral medications for treatment of genital herpes that are licensed in Australia are currently three:
already mentioned Acyclovir, Valaciclovir and Famciclovir.
Antiviral treatment can be useful to manage the disease, especially for people that have painful outbreaks or feel threatened in their lifestyle by the virus. There are two main approachs for antiviral treatments of genital herpes: episodic therapy and suppressive therapy.
Episodic therapy must be started within the first day of symptom onset and may reduce the duration of the outbreak by one or two days. Suppressive therapy provides for the daily use of antiviral drugs and can significantly reduce the number of outbreaks in a year. The real response to therapy varies from people to people, and for this cause it’s important to decide with the doctor the best strategy based on the needs of the patient.
Anyway it’s important to remember that genital herpes is a common condition and a rational approach to this infection is important to avoid difficulties experimented by patient because of social stygma and shame related to fallacious association with notions of promiscuity and sex behaviours.