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What is Herpes?


Herpes is caused by a virus. The official name of the condition is Herpes simplex virus disease. Often, it is also called HSV, but for this work I shall use the term “Herpes” whenever the condition is mentioned. The term is a Greek word meaning to “creep,” but with the connotation of creeping like a serpent. This seems to be an accurate description.

Historically, the symptoms have been noted since ancient times and were probably confused with other skin conditions such as syphilis, eczema, Herpes zoster (shingles), and even leprosy. The disease was named in 1736 by a French physician, Jean Astruc, who described the condition quite accurately. Unfortunately his research work was lost for 200 years and has only recently been rediscovered. But two centuries of progress in treating the disease was forfeited.

The Herpes simplex virus was not isolated until recently, and it wasn’t until the 1960s that the two strains of the virus were identified. Some clever person named these strains Type 1 and Type 2. x Herpes is an epidemic problem in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Japan. It is a disease which is affected greatly by anxiety and stress. As these traits are often considered to be characteristic of the developed nations, it may be that many countries of Asia, South America, and Africa are not as aware of the problems as we. Race, however, has little to do with the incidence of the condition. Some of the patients in our clinic were black, some were Hispanic, but they were predominantly white, as is the population of the area.

In 1968 a major report inferred that Herpes Type 1 causes lesions (sores) above the waist and Herpes Type 2 causes lesions below the waist. This is basically true. However, because of our changing sexual mores and an increase in oral-genital sex, the virus may get mixed up. Sometimes we find a reversal in the site of the infection: Type 1 virus may be found in the genital lesions and Type 2 may be the cause of oral lesions or even sores of the eyes.

This chapter will deal with the symptoms of the dis- ease, a description of the blisters, where they are located, and how the disease progresses. There are some differences in the effects in women and men. I shall de- scribe those variations and also the results of infections with Type 1 and Type 2 virus. The dissimilarities be- tween infections of the lips (Herpes labials) and Herpes of the genital organs (Herpes genitals) will be outlined.