Let’s talk about herpes because you probably have it.
Don’t start denying it, 70-90% of the population is positive for carrying HSV-1 and that is just one variation of the virus. But how did you catch it?
Many people think herpes is purely an STD (sexually transmitted disease) but that’s not true. Yes, it’s usually transmitted via mucous membranes but that can be just as well your mouth. Did your mom ever kiss you on the mouth as a kid? Ever spat on a tissue to clean something off your face? Congratulations, that’s how you got it.
Of course, it’s not the only way, of course, it can be transmitted sexually. But don’t break up with your partner because you suddenly have genital herpes and think they gave it to you. Why? Because herpes is a pretty mean virus. It hides.
When the herpes virus has successfully entered the body, it likes to use neurons (cells of your nervous system) as a host. Those neurons don’t have MHC on their surface (click here to read why that’s so important) so the body’s immune cells don’t notice something is wrong. @suesa
The herpes virus can stay inside a neuron for a long, long time. Decades even! It just sits around inside the cell’s nucleus and does absolutely nothing. Until something causes it to start its replication cycle, be it extreme stress or a suppressed immune system (after an organ transplant for example).
Then, the herpes virus prevents the cell from killing itself (= apoptosis), inhibits the immune system’s reaction and generally shuts off the cell’s own protein production. The result is a visible herpes outbreak. The blisters that can be seen on a patient’s skin contain a plethora of viruses, just waiting to be transferred to another host.
Don’t kiss someone who has a visible herpes blister. Don’t kiss someone if you have a herpes blister. And avoid oral sex too, please.
The variety of herpes viruses is huge. Did you know chickenpox is technically herpes? It’s also called varicella and can, just as any other herpes virus, hide in your body and come back as a nasty disease, especially when you’re already over 50.
Kissing disease (infectious mononucleosis)? It’s caused by the Epstein-Barr virus, also known as human herpesvirus 4. Many are infected as children without symptoms but the virus is suspected to cause Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
So is there a cure? A treatment? A vaccine?
Well … yes and no.
Just as HIV, herpes is not a simple disease, especially because there is more than one form.
Obviously, you can just avoid contact with someone who is displaying symptoms, but that might not always protect you.
Medication like Acyclovir can be used as a therapy during a herpes outbreak and is usually given to pregnant women with a fresh herpes infection. Why? Because if the child is infected during birth, there is a 50% chance it will die horribly.
There is a vaccination against chickenpox and I recommend it to everyone who didn’t have the disease as a child. Considering that the virus will persist, even when the symptoms have vanished, I’d even recommend it for children but that’s a personal choice. I was vaccinated against it when I turned 16 because a chickenpox infection is something really nasty to have when you’re older.
And for the rest?
Well … Good luck.
Lecture “Herpesviruses” by Professor Friedrich Grässer
Picture taken from pixabay.com, sketch by me
Got a scientific topic which you want to see as a story? Leave me a comment!
You want to support scientists on Steemit? You are a scientist on Steemit? Join the #steemSTEM channel on steemit.chat and connect with us!
STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math