The Web of Life (37-12) Herpes


If you love something, set it free. Just don’t be surprised if it comes back with herpes. ~ American writer Chuck Palahniuk

Herpes simplex (Greek for “creep like a snake”) is an ancient DNA virus even by virus standards. Herpes’ archaic lineage explains its well-tailored adaptations and its relatively benign coexistence with its hosts as a lysogenic lurker. Via vast experience, herpes developed a successful viral business model.

Herpes infect everything from humans to coral, with each species having its own specific set of viruses. ~ English virologist Charlotte Houldcroft

Some variants of herpes are so well engineered that they move easily among animal species not evolutionarily closely related.

There are 2 types of human herpes simplex. Both infect mucosal surfaces of the body, typically the mouth or genitals.

Herpes establishes residence, or latency, in the nervous system, tucked inside nerve cells. The virus never leaves. Symptoms of viral activity are treatable, but the virus cannot be eliminated.

The primary difference between herpes 1 and 2 is residence location. Herpes 1 establishes latency within the trigeminal ganglion, which are nerve cells near the ears. Herpes 2 usually resides in the sacral ganglion, at the lower base of the spine.

Herpes 1 infected the first hominids 6 million years ago (MYA), while herpes 2 jumped to hominids 3–1.4 MYA.

The herpes virus infects 20% of the human population. Most people with herpes, particularly genital herpes, do not know they have the virus. Doctors fail to diagnose 90% of herpes cases.

The painful symptoms of active herpes are sores, typically on the lips, inside the mouth, or on the genitals, though sores can appear on the hands (fingers) or eyes.

The most devastating effects are when the virus is transmitted to a newborn, typically during birth. This can be fatal, cause mental retardation, or blindness, if sores occur in the eyes.

Herpes is typically active within the body for a year or so, causing symptomatic discomfort to its host, until settling down into latency. Bodily stress riles the virus.

During latency, the herpes virus is dormant, and is not known to replicate. For the disease to spread, the virus must roust itself, becoming active for transmission when the time is ripe.

Herpes viruses engage in a dialogue with the host cell. ~ American immunologist Alka Prasad

Though its nervous system connection, herpes monitors sexual activity and becomes operative when its carrier becomes sexually engaged. Herpes can be stealthy and mobilize without triggering noticeable symptoms.

Herpes symptoms are provoked by systemic stress. This is part of a generalized response by the immune system. The T cells responsible for keeping herpes under control are diverted to more pressing business.

The herpes virus works by indirectly controlling a nerve cell’s mitochondrion, altering cell calcium level and neuron activity. It commandeers the proteins that mitochondria use to move about a cell, allowing the virus to travel freely and spread to uninfected cells.

Herpes can move through the body quickly. It has a protein that switches on the cellular motor protein dynein. This lets herpes zip along the nervous system’s intercellular highways (microtubules).

Overtaking the cellular motor to invade the nervous system is a complicated accomplishment that most viruses are incapable of achieving. Yet the herpes virus uses one protein, no others required, to transport its genetic information over long distances without stopping. ~ American immunologist Gregory Smith

Herpes fully incorporates itself into the human system, using the body’s mechanisms not only for replication and transport, but also tapping into the body’s internal communication system, and responding to suit itself.