Herpes Simplex Virus

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"HSV" redirects here. For the German soccer club, see Hamburger SV.

Microscopy image of a herpes simplex virus (NASA)


Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) is a member of the Herpesviridae family of viruses, a family of DNA viruses important in human disease. These include Human herpesviruses (HHV)1-8 (see Herpes Viruses). HSV 1 and 2 correspond to HHV 1 and 2. HSV 1 and 2 are very prevalent in the human population, with as many as 30-70% of people testing positive for antibodies in their lifetime. Currently in the United States 19% of the population is infected.[1]


HSV 1 and 2 are DNA viruses that cause common human illnesses, and infection is life-long. In general, HSV 1 is more commonly seen on the face, and HSV 2 is more commonly seen on the genitalia. The virus is spread by simple person-to-person contact and can occur when sores are visible, and when the virus is dormant, although this is less effective. These viruses generally cause mucocutaneous infection. This can manifest as cold sores on the lips, or as genital sores. The typical rash is described as "dew drops on a rose pedal". These are generally painful. Initial infection can be accompanied by systemic systems such as fever and muscle aches. After resolution of the initial infection, the virus becomes dormant in the human host. Under certain conditions that are not well understood, the virus is reactivated, with a recurrence of mucocutaneous infection. These recurrent attacks are unpredictable and can be frequent or infrequent. In addition to the common mucocutaneous infection, HSV 1 and 2 can also cause keratitis (inflammation in the eye), encephalitis (brain infection), and severe neonatal disease if acquired during pregnancy.

Prevention and Treatment

Because HSV 2 is spread more commonly by sexual contact, it is easier to prevent than HSV 1. There is currently no vaccine available for either virus. Avoiding contact with people who have obvious sores helps reduce infection, and prophylaxis with commonly available antiviral drugs can help prevent transmission during the latent phase of the illness. Prophylaxis can also be given to reduce frequency and severity of attacks.


  1. AOL.com, News

Goldman: Cecil Textbook of Medicine, 22nd ed., Copyright © 2004 W. B. Saunders Company

Cohen & Powderly: Infectious Diseases, 2nd ed., Copyright © 2004 Mosby, An Imprint of Elsevier