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Herpes Simplex

  • Author: Michelle R Salvaggio, MD, FACP; Chief Editor: Michael Stuart Bronze, MD  more...
 
Updated: Sep 18, 2015
 

Background

Herpes simplex viruses are ubiquitous, host-adapted pathogens that cause a wide variety of disease states. Two types exist: herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and type 2 (HSV-2). Both are closely related but differ in epidemiology. HSV-1 is traditionally associated with orofacial disease (see the image below), while HSV-2 is traditionally associated with genital disease; however, lesion location is not necessarily indicative of viral type.

Herpes simplex virus type 1. Primary herpes can af Herpes simplex virus type 1. Primary herpes can affect the lips, and the ruptured vesicles may appear as bleeding of the lips. Courtesy of A.K. ElGeneidy, DDS.

See Herpes Simplex Viruses: Test Your Knowledge, a Critical Images slideshow, for more information on clinical, histologic, and radiographic imaging findings in HSV-1 and HSV-2.

Also, see the 20 Signs of Sexually Transmitted Infections and Clues in the Oral Cavity: Are You Missing the Diagnosis? slideshows to help make an accurate diagnosis.

Up to 80% of herpes simplex infections are asymptomatic. Symptomatic infections can be characterized by significant morbidity and recurrence. In immunocompromised hosts, infections can cause life-threatening complications.

The prevalence of HSV infection worldwide has increased over the last several decades, making it a major public health concern. Prompt recognition of herpes simplex infection and early initiation of therapy are of utmost importance in the management of the disease.

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Pathophysiology

HSV (both types 1 and 2) belongs to the family Herpesviridae and to the subfamily Alphaherpesvirinae. It is a double-stranded DNA virus characterized by the following unique biological properties:[1]

  • Neurovirulence (the capacity to invade and replicate in the nervous system)
  • Latency (the establishment and maintenance of latent infection in nerve cell ganglia proximal to the site of infection): In orofacial HSV infections, the trigeminal ganglia are most commonly involved, while, in genital HSV infection, the sacral nerve root ganglia (S2-S5) are involved.
  • Reactivation: The reactivation and replication of latent HSV, always in the area supplied by the ganglia in which latency was established, can be induced by various stimuli (eg, fever, trauma, emotional stress, sunlight, menstruation), resulting in overt or covert recurrent infection and shedding of HSV. In immunocompetent persons who are at an equal risk of acquiring HSV-1 and HSV-2 both orally and genitally, HSV-1 reactivates more frequently in the oral rather than the genital region. Similarly, HSV-2 reactivates 8-10 times more commonly in the genital region than in the orolabial regions. Reactivation is more common and severe in immunocompromised individuals. [2]

Dissemination of herpes simplex infection can occur in people with impaired T-cell immunity, such as in organ transplant recipients and in individuals with AIDS.

HSV is distributed worldwide. Humans are the only natural reservoirs, and no vectors are involved in transmission. Endemicity is easily maintained in most human communities owing to latent infection, periodic reactivation, and asymptomatic virus shedding.[3]

HSV is transmitted by close personal contact, and infection occurs via inoculation of virus into susceptible mucosal surfaces (eg, oropharynx, cervix, conjunctiva) or through small cracks in the skin. The virus is readily inactivated at room temperature and by drying; hence, aerosol and fomitic spread are rare.

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Epidemiology

Frequency

United States

HSV is ubiquitous, and most individuals show some evidence of HSV infection. HSV-1 is usually acquired in childhood by contact with oral secretions that contain the virus. The presence of HSV-2 can be used as an indirect measure of sexual activity in some cases. Seroprevalence rates do not reflect how many of these individuals have or will have symptomatic episodes of HSV recurrence.

Seroprevalence: Antibodies to HSV-1 increase with age starting in childhood and correlate with socioeconomic status, race, and cultural group. By age 30 years, 50% of individuals in a high socioeconomic status and 80% in a lower socioeconomic status are seropositive. Antibodies to HSV-2 begin to emerge at puberty, correlating with the degree of sexual activity. The lifetime seroprevalence can be 20%-80%.[4]

International

HSV is well distributed worldwide. An increase in seroprevalence of antibodies to HSV-2 has been documented throughout the world (including the United States) over the last 20 years.[1]

Mortality/Morbidity

Morbidity and mortality rates associated with HSV infections are discussed in Complications. Overall, the mortality rate associated with herpes simplex infections is related to 3 situations: perinatal infection, encephalitis, and infection in the immunocompromised host.

Race

The most recent national health survey conducted in the United States revealed a seroprevalence of HSV-2 antibodies in 45% of blacks, 22% of Mexican-Americans, and 17% of whites.[4]

Sex

Seropositivity to antibodies to HSV-2 is more common in women (25%) than in men (17%).[4]

Age

HSV-1 infections transmitted via saliva are common in children, although primary herpes gingivostomatitis can be observed at any age. HSV-2 infections are clustered perinatally (from a maternal episode at delivery) and primarily once sexual activity begins. HSV-2 genital infections in children can be an indication of sexual abuse. Increased age (after onset of sexual activity) and total number of sexual partners are independent factors associated with increased seroprevalence of HSV-2 antibodies.[4]

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Contributor Information and Disclosures
Author

Michelle R Salvaggio, MD, FACP Assistant Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, Section of Infectious Diseases, University of Oklahoma College of Medicine; Medical Director of Infectious Diseases Institute, Director, Clinical Trials Unit, Director, Ryan White Programs, Department of Medicine, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center; Attending Physician, Infectious Diseases Consultation Service, Infectious Diseases Institute, OU Medical Center

Michelle R Salvaggio, MD, FACP is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Physicians, Infectious Diseases Society of America

Disclosure: Received honoraria from Merck for speaking and teaching.

Coauthor(s)

Larry I Lutwick, MD Professor of Medicine, State University of New York Downstate Medical School; Director, Infectious Diseases, Veterans Affairs New York Harbor Health Care System, Brooklyn Campus

Larry I Lutwick, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Physicians, Infectious Diseases Society of America

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Meena Seenivasan, MD Fellow, Department of Infectious Disease, State University of New York Health Science Center at Brooklyn

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Swati Kumar, MD Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Division of Infectious Diseases, Medical College of Wisconsin, Consulting Staff, Children's Specialty Group, Children's Hospital of Wisconsin

Swati Kumar, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, Infectious Diseases Society of America, Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

Charles V Sanders, MD Edgar Hull Professor and Chairman, Department of Internal Medicine, Professor of Microbiology, Immunology and Parasitology, Louisiana State University School of Medicine at New Orleans; Medical Director, Medicine Hospital Center, Charity Hospital and Medical Center of Louisiana at New Orleans; Consulting Staff, Ochsner Medical Center

Charles V Sanders, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Physicians, Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics, The Foundation for AIDS Research, Southern Society for Clinical Investigation, Southwestern Association of Clinical Microbiology, Association of Professors of Medicine, Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, American Clinical and Climatological Association, Infectious Disease Society for Obstetrics and Gynecology, Orleans Parish Medical Society, Southeastern Clinical Club, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Alpha Omega Alpha, American Association of University Professors, American Association for Physician Leadership, American Federation for Medical Research, American Geriatrics Society, American Lung Association, American Medical Association, American Society for Microbiology, American Thoracic Society, American Venereal Disease Association, Association of American Medical Colleges, Association of American Physicians, Infectious Diseases Society of America, Louisiana State Medical Society, Royal Society of Medicine, Sigma Xi, Society of General Internal Medicine, Southern Medical Association

Disclosure: Received royalty from Baxter International for other.

Chief Editor

Michael Stuart Bronze, MD David Ross Boyd Professor and Chairman, Department of Medicine, Stewart G Wolf Endowed Chair in Internal Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Oklahoma Health Science Center; Master of the American College of Physicians; Fellow, Infectious Diseases Society of America

Michael Stuart Bronze, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Medical Association, Oklahoma State Medical Association, Southern Society for Clinical Investigation, Association of Professors of Medicine, American College of Physicians, Infectious Diseases Society of America

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

Thomas J Marrie, MD Dean of Faculty of Medicine, Dalhousie University Faculty of Medicine, Canada

Thomas J Marrie, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American College of Physicians, American Society for Microbiology, Association of Medical Microbiology and Infectious Disease Canada, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

References
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Herpes simplex virus type 1. Primary herpes can affect the lips, and the ruptured vesicles may appear as bleeding of the lips. Courtesy of A.K. ElGeneidy, DDS.
Herpes simplex virus type 1. Recurrent herpes is most often noted clinically as herpes labialis, with clustered vesicles (often coalescing) on the lip vermilion and often on the perioral skin. Recurrences generally occur in the same area each time, although their severity may vary. Courtesy of Sara Gordon, DDS.
This neonate displayed a maculopapular outbreak on his feet due to congenitally acquired herpes simplex virus infection. Courtesy of the CDC/Judith Faulk.
Herpes simplex virus type 1. Recurrent herpes is occasionally observed intraorally. Inside the oral cavity, recurrent herpes typically affects only keratinized tissues, such as the gingiva or the hard palate. Vesicles often break quickly, so the clinician may observe small clustered ulcers. Courtesy of Sheldon Mintz, DDS.
 
 
 
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