I have herpes viruses and so do YOU

Herpes. What? HERPES?! I don’t have THAT. Do I?

Yes. And I do too. And I have a form that’s uncommon, painful, and straight-up weird. But first, let me explain why YOU are harboring herpes viruses…

Unless you live in under a rock completely removed from civilization you have at least ONE of the herpes viruses in your body.

You have one RIGHT NOW in your body. Herpes viruses, once they infect and cause disease, they hang around in your body forever, some ready to come back out and reactivate.

There are nine human herpesviruses (HHV):

  1. Herpes simplex virus 1 and 2 (HSV-1, HSV-2) –HSV-1 most commonly infects the upper half of body yielding cold sores and HSV-2 normally infects the lower half of body yielding genital herpes. However, they are able to criss-cross.
  2. Varicella-zoster virus (VZV, HHV-3) also known as chicken pox and shingles
  3. Epstein-Barr virus (EBV, HHV-4), otherwise known as mononucleosis (mono)
  4. Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV or HHV-5) — a common virus often symptomless (one in three children have contracted it by age 5).
  5. Human herpesvirus 6A and 6B (HHV-6A and HHV-6B) a virus that infects nearly 100% of human beings typically before age 3. Otherwise known as roseola, a disease characterized by a fever and rash.
  6. Human herpesvirus 7 (HHV-7) a virus that infects most children, with 98% of adults testing positive. Symptoms may include fever and skin rash.
  7. Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV, HHV-8) – a virus linked to certain cancers often times in AIDS patients.

Now that we’ve established that you have some of these viruses in your body (nearly all of us with HHV-5, HHV-6, and HHV-7, and many of us adults with the chicken pox virus/virus that causes mono), let’s talk about one virus in particular: herpes simplex virus (HSV). This is HERPES–the one that gets all the hype and the one that no one wants or wants to admit they have.

There are two forms of HSV: HSV-1 and HSV-2. HSV-1 typically infects the top half of the body normally showing up as cold sores. The one responsible for the nasty genital herpes is typically HSV-2. But they both can infect either area of the body, and both are very contagious. The WHO claims that 67% of the world’s population has HSV-1.

This virus is spread when the infected person is actively shedding the virus. HSV-1 is commonly acquired in childhood, but both HSV-1 and HSV-2 are sexually transmitted.

The interesting thing about this virus and all herpes viruses? After the primary infection they lay latent in the body. This means they hide out, dormant, in the body and are able to reactivate and bring about new outbreaks.

HSV hides out from the immune system in the cell bodies of neurons. All sorts of things can bring the virus back from latency, like stress, sickness, surgery, among other things.  When this happens the virus becomes active, follows along the nerve axon to the skin where it replicates and creates new sores. And of course, it sheds to try to infect another unsuspecting individual.

So, you’ve probably heard about herpes causing cold sores and genital herpes before, but did you know that the same virus can cause an infection of the fingers and toes? Remember I told you I have a weird form of herpes? Well this is it. It’s called whitlow and it’s not super common.

Whitlow is a painful infection of the hands or toes, most commonly from HSV-1 (sometimes HSV-2). This virus enters the body through a break in the skin–often from a torn cuticle or break in the nail. You find this most often in children or healthcare workers.

I’m not sure how I got the virus but I know I got it as a child. My fingers would hurt in times of stress and I was always stressed as a child. I was always biting my fingernails, so much so that my fingers would bleed, and that’s probably where the virus got in.

These little blisters are PAINFUL. I can’t imagine having them elsewhere. I feel for anyone who does. And every time I have an outbreak I’m scared to put my hands near my children’s mouths because I could transmit it to them. And that would make me feel absolutely horrible.

The reason I’m writing about this today is because a few days back I had a procedure done under anesthesia and it really knocked me off my feet. Thus, the sores reared their ugly faces. I have them on my fingers at the current moment and it even hurts to type. They’re on my dominant hand only, as they normally only occur on one side of the body (thanks, nervous system). Check out my photos. They’re not at their worst today but you can still get an idea of what they might be like.

There are some medications that can help stop the outbreak but I typically let them clear up on their own like they do after around 10-14 days. I get them maybe 4 times a year. In college I had them all the time. For me, it’s all about stress. Stress is, in my opinion, one of the worst things for your body. It can knock you down and reactivate some of these nasty herpes viruses. Here’s to hoping for a stress-free, healthy, no-blister summer! For all of us!

 

Resources:

Bjorn Grindle. “Herpesviruses: latency and reactivation — viral strategies and host response.” J Oral Microbiol. 2013; 5: 10.3402/jom.v5i0.22766.

“Herpes simplex virus”. World Health Organization. 31 January 2017.