How Many Types Of Herpes Virus Are There?

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There are eight types of human herpes virus. Most are characterized by eruptions of small, usually painful, skin blisters:

Herpes simplex type 1 —causes recurrent cold sores and infections of the lips, mouth, and face. This virus is contagious and spreads by direct contact with the lesions or fluid from the lesions. Cold sores usually recur at sites where there is an elevated temperature due to fever or prolonged sun exposure. Occasionally this virus may cause blisters on the fingers. If the virus gets into the eye, it can cause conjunctivitis (swelling of the inner surface of the eyelids, sometimes called "pink-eye") or even a corneal ulcer (open sore on the cornea). On rare occasions, it can spread to the brain and cause the brain disease encephalitis.

Herpes simplex type 2—causes genital herpes, as well as infections that are passed on to a pregnant woman's unborn baby. This virus is contagious and is transmitted by sexual intercourse. It produces small blisters in the genital area. When the blisters burst they leave small, painful ulcers (open sores). The ulcers heal within 10 days to 3 weeks. Headache, fever, enlarged lymph nodes, and painful urination are the other symptoms of Herpes simplex type 2.

Varicella-zoster (herpes zoster)—causes chicken pox and shingles. en pox is a highly contagious, airborne virus. Symptoms of chicken pox include fever, headache, and a rash of small, itchy blisters. Around five days after forming, the blisters break and scab over. A vaccine was approved for chicken pox in the mid-1990s.

Shingles is caused by the reemergence of the herpes zoster virus, which lies dormant in the body following a case of chicken pox. Shingles usually affects older adults, although it can affect people of any age. It strikes when the immune system is weakened (because of age, certain diseases, and the use of drugs called immunosuppressants) or during times of excessive emotional stress. Shingles may also result from the use of drugs called corticosteroids.

Shingles takes the form of a painful rash of small blisters. The blisters dry and crust over, eventually leaving small pitted scars. The rash tends to surface over the ribs, or in a strip on one side of the neck, abdomen, or lower body. Sometimes it affects the lower half of the face and eyes. Shingles may cause severe pain and long-lasting nerve damage.

Epsteiri'Barr—causes infectious mononucleosis, also called "mono." Symptoms of this disease include: high fever; sore throat; fatigue; and swollen lymph glands in the neck, armpits, and groin. Mono occurs mainly during adolescence.

Cytomegalovirus—this strain of herpes virus enlarges the cells it infects. Whereas it generally does not produce symptoms in the carrier, it can cause birth defects when transmitted from a pregnant mother to her unborn child.

There are three other known human herpes viruses. The first is Human herpes virus 6 (HHV-6), which is commonly associated with roseola, an infection that produces a rose-colored rash. The disease association is not yet understood for the two remaining viruses, human herpes viruses 7 and 8 (HHV-7/8).

Herpes gestationis is a rare skin-blister disorder occurring only in pregnancy and is not related to the herpes simplex virus.

Sources: The American Medical Association Encycbpedia of Medicine, pp. 331, 415, 536-37, 693; Balfour, Henry H. Herpes Diseases and Your Health, p. 3; Barnes-Svarney, Patricia. The New York Public Library Science Desk Reference, pp. 187-90; Lederberg, Joshua Encyclopedia of Microbiology, vol. 2, p. 382.