Another common skin virus is herpes simplex virus (HSV). HSV has historically been divided into two types, HSV-1 and HSV-2. HSV-1 is typically transmitted by direct oral contact between individuals, and is usually associated with oral herpes. HSV-2 is usually transmitted sexually and is typically associated with genital herpes. However, both HSV-1 and HSV-2 are capable of infecting any mucous membrane, and the incidence of genital HSV-1 and oral HSV-2 infections has been increasing in recent years. In this chapter, we will limit our discussion to infections caused by HSV-1; HSV-2 and genital herpes.
Infection by HSV-1 commonly manifests as cold sores or fever blisters, usually on or around the lips. HSV-1 is highly contagious, with some studies suggesting that up to 65% of the US population is infected; however, many infected individuals are asymptomatic. Moreover, the virus can be latent for long periods, residing in the trigeminal nerve ganglia between recurring bouts of symptoms. Recurrence can be triggered by stress or environmental conditions (systemic or affecting the skin). When lesions are present, they may blister, break open, and crust. The virus can be spread through direct contact, even when a patient is asymptomatic.
While the lips, mouth, and face are the most common sites for HSV-1 infections, lesions can spread to other areas of the body. Wrestlers and other athletes involved in contact sports may develop lesions on the neck, shoulders, and trunk. This condition is often called herpes gladiatorum. Herpes lesions that develop on the fingers are often called herpetic whitlow.
HSV-1 infections are commonly diagnosed from their appearance, although laboratory testing can confirm the diagnosis. There is no cure, but antiviral medications such as acyclovir, penciclovir, famciclovir, and valacyclovir are used to reduce symptoms and risk of transmission. Topical medications, such as creams with n-docosanol and penciclovir, can also be used to reduce symptoms such as itching, burning, and tingling.
Parker, N., Schneegurt, M., Thi Tu, A.-H., Forster, B. M., & Lister, P. (n.d.). Microbiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/details/books/microbiology