Herpes History

Where did it come from?

The herpes virus has been around for a very long time, documented by the ancient Greeks as sores that seemed to ‘creep’ over the surface of the skin. In fact, the term “herpes” is derived from the Greek word meaning “to creep”.

It is also evident that two thousand years ago, Roman Emperor Tiberius attempted to curb an epidemic of herpes labialis (mouth herpes) by outlawing kissing during public ceremonies and rituals.

The term herpes simplex was introduced in 1906 and included herpes labialis (cold sores) and herpes progenitalis (genital herpes) in the belief that both disorders were the same disease affecting different anatomic sites. Vidal (1873) first demonstrated herpes simplex to be infections caused by human inoculation. There is no cure for herpes.

The origin of herpes in human history is unknown. HSV-1 has probably been around as long as anyone could diagnose the distinctive fever blisters. There was no cure for herpes then.

Studies of the elderly in Europe and the United States have shown that 90% have been exposed to the virus. The spread of HSV-1 has declined with the understanding that the herpetic sores shed the virus and that these can be spread with just a kiss. HSV-2 is primarily passed on by sexual contact between humans.

Herpetic whitlow is a herpes infection in the fingers which occurred in dental personnel before the era of mandatory glove use. Like herpetic lesions elsewhere on the body, the herpes outbreaks are often painful and at times disabling.

The herpes virus is related to viruses that cause chicken pox, shingles, infectious mononucleosis and Epstein-Barr. The Epstein-Barr Virus was discovered in 1964 by M. Anthony Epstein and co-workers in Burkitt’s lymphoma cells.

However, it wasn’t until 1968 that Gertrude and Werner Henle discovered it was actually a herpes virus and, after one of their lab technicians came down with mononucleosis, discovered its link with the herpes simplex virus.

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