Herpes viruses are an abundant group of viruses that are frequent causes of certain diseases found in humans and animals. Viruses are a few thousandths of a millimetre large particles with a primitive body and a unique way of life. In order to reproduce they must attack a live cell and force it to produce elements and energy sources for it. In the end, the virus activates a mechanism that kills the cell. The decaying cell releases a large number of viruses that attack surrounding cells and this is how infection spreads. Herpes virus exists in many forms causing a variety of diseases.
Diseases Caused by Herpes Viruses
Since herpes viruses are a broad group of viruses, they cause a wide spectrum of diseases ranging in severity. The group of herpes viruses includes eight agents, each of which causes a different infectious disease.
Cold sores, medically called herpes labialis, are a very common illness affecting individuals of all ages, regardless of race or gender. The cause of cold sores is the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV I). Herpes viruses generally have the ability to survive in the body in the nerve nodules. In the case of this virus, it lives in the nerve nodules of the head and with weakening of the immune system this virus "travels" and causes typical symptoms on the lips or nose.
- Symptoms of cold sores begin on and around the lips. Initially there may be some uncomfortable tightness and tingling, followed by the development of a tiny yellowish pus containing sore. Theses sores later burst and their content leaks out. They later turn to scabs which crack with the opening of the mouth, often itching or burning. They may occasionally bleed as well. All symptoms typically disappear within two weeks, but with weakening of the immune system or with physical or mental stress, the symptoms may reappear.
- The transmission of the herpes simplex virus type 1 typically occurs with direct contact with the ill. Transmission can occur through saliva, tears, contaminated fingers or objects. The patient is contagious mainly in the blistering stage.
- Complications of cold sores include pneumonia or inflammation of the liver. Inflammation of the eye can also develop and this can lead to corneal ulcers. The most severe complication of cold sores is inflammation of the brain or meninges.
- Treatment of cold sores is based on localized application of antivirals, medication that fight against viruses. These are mostly applied in the form of gels or creams. Treatment in the form of pills is typically reserved for patients with compromised immune systems or reoccurring cold sores.
Genital herpes, or genital warts, is a disease mostly found in adulthood as it is classified as a sexually transmitted disease and is linked to sexual activity. Genital herpes is caused by the virus herpes simples type 2 and can appear in the genital and anal areas, lower abdomen or buttocks.
- Symptoms of genital herpes appear within a week of sexual activity with an infected individual. Manifestations include redness in the infected area, itching and the development of blisters or warts, which form clumps. The blisters are filled with a clear and eventually cloudy fluid that is highly infectious. If there blisters burst, the infection can be easily transmitted.
- Transmission of genital herpes occurs primarily during sexual activity. It can also be transmitted through broken skin, oral sex or other practices. Transmission can also occur through contaminated fingers or objects. If a pregnant woman is affected by genital herpes, the newborn is at risk of infection during its passage through the birth canal.
- Complications of genital herpes include inflammation of the vagina in women, inflammation of the glans penis in men, painful urination and discharge. The most severe complications include inflammation of the brain and meninges.
- Treatment of genital herpes is based on the administration of antivirals, preferably in pill form, as creams and gels are no always effective. The most important aspect of treatment of genital herpes is initiating treatment as soon as possible. Pregnant women undergo testing at the beginning of their pregnancy to test for the presence of the virus. If the virus is present, antivirals can be administered up to the 36th week of pregnancy as prevention against symptoms and having the birth by caesarean section.
Chickenpox is a childhood illness caused by the Varicella zoster virus, part of the herpes viruses. It is a disease affection mostly children of preschool and primary school ages.
- The symptoms of chickenpox are quite typical for this disease. In the beginning there are no specific symptoms, just a general headache and fever. Later a reddish rash appears on the head and torso. Within a few hours the rash turns into blisters that burst and itch severely. Once the burst blisters dry up, a scab is formed. When the symptoms disappear the virus is still present in the body; it survives in the nervous tissue and reactivates with weakening of the immune system, causing shingles.
- The transmission of chickenpox is mainly by tiny droplets that are released with sneezing or coughing of an infected individual. This individual is considered contagious two days before the appearance of the rash, which is why direct contact with the ill should be limited or excluded completely.
- Complications of chickenpox include secondary bacterial infections of the blisters, usually due to scratching. Other than on the skin, chickenpox can appear in the mouth or the mucous membranes and can lead to pneumonia, joint damage, liver damage or hemorrhagic manifestations.
- Treatment of chickenpox is based on controlling its symptoms. Medication to lower fever is administered but treating the blisters with powder is no longer recommended in order to aid better healing.
Mononucleosis, or mono for short, is an infectious disease appearing in childhood and adolescence and is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus or Cytomegalovirus. It is sometimes known as the "kissing disease" as the most common transmission is by kissing. The disease is not excluded in adults; however it tends to be more severe. Mono is a disease with similar symptoms to the flu, but its consequences are more serious. This is why it is important to be able to distinguish the two illnesses.
- Symptoms of mono include primarily long term fatigue, fever and a sore throat. Swollen cervical lymph nodes develop soon after, and just as in tonsillitis, a white coating covers the tonsils and the patient has difficulty swallowing. The patient tends to sweat more and experiences head and muscle aches. Another typical symptom of mono that does not necessarily appear in all patients is an enlarged liver, manifested by the feeling of pressure under the right rib cage. An enlarged spleen can also develop, in which case the feeling of pressure is on the left side of the torso.
- Mono is mostly transmitted by saliva, usually during kissing, or through infected objects. Whether the disease manifests itself depends primarily on the state of the organism. As with any disease, mono is more dangerous for patients with weakened immune systems, patients under stress, the chronically tired or those undergoing another illness.
- The main complication of mono includes liver damage, which can significantly reduce its function and may lead to jaundice. Rupturing of the spleen may occur as well as lowered white blood cell count or damage to the heart. Mono can also cause respiratory oppression, swollen cervical lymph nodes and breathing difficulties as well as inflammation of the meninges.
- Treatment of mono is conservative and includes bed rest, limited physical activity, and a special diet low in animal fats but high in carbohydrates. Light, easily digestible foods are appropriate, as well as herbal teas to restore liver function. It is also necessary to control accompanying symptoms, mainly to reduce fever and if necessary, administer vitamin and mineral supplements to reduce fatigue. A very important part of the treatment plan, which lasts about 6 months, is to limit contact sports or dangerous physical activity. Enlarged liver and spleen lie close to the skeleton and are much more prone to rupturing.
Roseloa, or sixth disease, is an infectious disease found in older infants and toddlers. Its cause is the herpes virus HHV6. Though roseola is highly contagious, it is usually not serious and in most cases it does not cause severe complications.
- Roseola is manifested by a high fever reaching 40°C (104°F), irritability, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, coughing and a runny nose. Some children experience swollen lymph nodes in the head and neck. Later these symptoms are replaced by a red rash on the torso, sometimes spreading to the arms, legs and neck. This rash does not itch and in contrary to the very similar fifth disease, the rash does not develop on the head.
- Transmission of roseola usually occurs through direct contact with the ill or through tiny droplets of saliva from family members. Rarely is the disease transmitted by air.
- Complications of roseola are dangerous for children. The most common complications include febrile convulsion, muscle spasms caused by a high fever. These convulsions can lead to breathing difficulties and can even cause suffocation of the child. Rarely can the child develop aseptic meningitis, infectious mononucleosis-like syndrome, blood disorders, or inflammation of the liver or meninges.
- Treatment of roseola is based on the control of accompanying symptoms and is not focused on the root cause. Medication to lower fever (antipyretics) are administered, and with a high fever, cold compresses are recommended. Because the rash does not itch, no creams are necessary to treat roseola. Plenty of fluids are important, as well as bed rest and isolation from other children until symptoms disappear. In the case of febrile convulsions, cold compresses and a higher dose of antipyretics are administered. Diazepam can be administered on the recommendation of a doctor as prevention.
Kaposi's sarcoma is a cancer cause by the herpes virus HHV8. This illness appears in patients with compromised immune systems, often HIV positive patients. Kaposi's sarcoma is most often found on the skin, mucous glands or on the organs
- Kaposi's sarcoma manifests as a painless reddish-purple bump on the skin. It is usually found on the ankles and lower leg. In more severe cases, the bumps can appear on the torso as well. If they are found on the organs of the digestive system or the lungs, it is manifested by bloody diarrhea and a cough with blood.
- Treatment of Kaposi's sarcoma is very complicated. Smaller areas that are on the surface of the skin can be surgically removed, whereas bumps on the organs require chemotherapy.