A Detailed Guide to Understand Herpes

What Is Herpes?
Herpes is a viral disease caused by herpes simplex virus (HSV), which manifests as eruptions on skin. There are two types of herpes: HSV-1, which is a type of oral herpes causing fever blisters around mouth or face and cold sores; and HSV-2, which causes outbreaks in genital areas.

What Causes Herpes Simplex?
HS Virus is contagious and spreads from one person to another through direct physical contact. HSV-1 virus infection can spread through casual interactions like sharing lip balm, eating from the same plate, or kissing. It can also spread from an adult to a child early in life or during birth (if the mother has a genital outbreak during labor). HSV-2 virus spreads through sexual activity with a person carrying the HSV-2 virus.

How Is Herpes Simplex Diagnosed?
HSV virus is diagnosed with simple physical examinations, keeping in focus the presence of sores and some other symptoms. The doctor can also recommend HSV testing, which is usually to confirm if the person has sores in genital area. For this test, the doctor takes fluid sample from the sore and it is sent to laboratory for testing. Blood tests can also help to diagnose the presence of Herpes virus. This is done when there are no visible sores on the body.

The NIH genital herpes vaccine: a clinical trial
National Institutes of Health (NIH), Unites States, researchers have launched a preventive genital herpes vaccine. The vaccine is still in the early stages of clinical trial. A part of NIH, called the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), has sponsored the Phase 1 of the trial, which is presently being executed by the NIH Clinical Center at Bethesda.

To read in more detail and to get updates on this clinical trial, click here

Currently, there is no vaccine for herpes nor is there a complete cure for it. The medications (acyclovir, famciclovir, and valacyclovir) are focused mainly on getting rid of the sores and reducing the frequency and likelihood of eruptions. Usually these medications are given as oral pills, or applied directly on skin as cream. In severe cases the medicine may be injected.

A very common sexually transmitted but lifelong virus, HSV can cause severe physical and psychological toll on the patient. They are also at a higher risk of getting infected with HIV. However, herpes does not have any effect on sexual potency. If it has knocked your confidence a little, take your mind off it by livening things up in the bedroom, and try varied sex positions with handcuffs!

When transmitted from mother to child during birth, it can cause complications, severe illness and even death. Therefore, a protective vaccine would be a great help in reducing the spread of this infection.

The trial is being led by Lesia K. Dropulic, M.D., the principal investigator at NIAID’s Laboratory of Infectious Diseases. The vaccine, named as HSV529 is an HSV-2 vaccine, which will boost the immune system response and thereby build a safety wall against infection. This investigational vaccine is the brainchild of David Knipe, Ph.D., who is a professor of microbiology and immunobiology at Harvard Medical School.

The clinical testing of the newly conceived vaccine has involved 10 years of joint collaborative efforts on the part of Dr. David Knipe and Dr. Jeffrey Cohen, a colleague of Dr. Dropulic and chief of NIAID’s Laboratory of Infectious Diseases. For more information on work undertaken by NIH, click here and here.

This candidate product is a replication-defective type vaccine. This type of vaccine works by causing the removal of two key constituent proteins in the vaccine virus. This inhibits the ability of the virus to multiply and therefore it cannot cause genital herpes.
The clinical trial for the HSV529 vaccine will have a testing sample of 20 adults. The adults will be in the age group of 18 - 40 years. These 60 individuals will be divided into three groups. Each group will be consisting of 20 individuals.

The first group will have people who have been infected with either both HSV-1 and HSV-2 viruses at some point in their lives, or who have previously been infected with at least the HSV-2 virus. The second group will comprise solely of those individuals who have been infected with only the oral type, or HSV-1 virus. The last group will constitute of those adults who have never been infected with either HSV-1 or HSV-2 virus.

Initially, the investigational vaccine will be restricted for testing only to study participants previously infected with HSV virus of any type, to see for any danger or safety issue that it might pose.

The design for the study is the following: On a random basis, in each of the three groups, the researchers will choose participants who will receive 3 doses (equal to 0.5 milliliters in one dose) of the HSV529 vaccine. This will be given to a total of 15 participants. Also, five other participants at random will be given a saline-based placebo vaccine.

The three doses of vaccinations will be given first during the enrollment to the test, then after a gap of 1 month and lastly after 6 months. Throughout the course of the trial, the effect of the vaccination will be closely monitored to study the effects as well as to see whether it shows any negative effects in the participants’ health.

The close examination of the participant will continue till 6 months after the completion of the test in interest of the health safety of the participants. At the end of the trial period, blood samples of the participants will be collected and sent to laboratory to test the ability of the vaccine in stimulating the immune system and to see its responses to HSV-2, and also the T-cell responses and the production of virus-specific antibodies.

The study is still underway and is expected to be completed by October, 2016.

More information about his vaccine is available here.