The Unique Biology of The Herpes Simplex Virus


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Shockingly, you’re probably infected with the Herpes virus.  The global infection rate, defined as manifestation of certain identifiable skin lesions, is between 60% and 90%.  What is this virus and why is it everywhere?  First find a site such as the federal government’s CDC site or the following to find out all you need to know about herpes.

A virus is composed of a strand of DNA or RNA packaged into a protein coat called the capsid.  The DNA or RNA is the genetic information of the virus, which contains “instructions” of producing all the machinery.  The machinery includes not only the protein coat of the virus, but also various helper molecules which hijack the interior of a cell to turn it to the virus’s purposes.  The protein coat is made of the same amino acids that you need for nutrition every day, and the same amino acids that make up your nails, hair, and interior molecular machinery of your own cells.  In short, viruses really belong to the tree of life for they share the same types of molecules that make up the genetic information and the protein machinery.

But different viruses have different kinds of infection routes and provoke different kinds of symptoms.  There are also no good cures for viral infections.  Of the many medications we have in our biomedical arsenal, only a few attack viruses directly and those are not very effective.  The best weapons humans have against viruses are our own immune systems which are robust and adaptive compared to the medical molecules generated by pharmaceutical companies.

The Herpes virus comprises actually two different viruses calls HSV-1 and HSV-2.  They are different in their DNA sequence and consequently slightly different in their structural features as well and different propensities for infecting the oral and genital regions of the body.  Interestingly, when the virus infects a person, there are few symptoms.  Symptoms occur during “flare ups” which manifest as ulcers or blisters that heal quickly.  In between the virus is inactive or “latent”.  No one knows exactly what causes the virus to cycle between the two forms but there are some clues from population statistics if you want to find out how long do herpes symptoms last.  A number of other conditions of unknown etiology have been associated with the HSV variants.  The first is Bell’s palsy which is a troubling but mostly harmless paralysis of facial muscles.  The other is Alzheimer’s disease, which has been proposed to be the outcome of viral infection in the nervous system.

(Photo Credits: jogijogi99 / Creative Commons)

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