The 8 Types of Herpes and Their Characteristics

The best known herpes virus infections are cold sores and genital sores. However, there are other types that deserve to be known, due to the pathologies they produce..
The 8 Types of Herpes and Their Characteristics

Last update: 05 June, 2023

Viruses are capable of infecting humans and causing many diseases. Some of the best known are those belonging to the Herpesviridae family. There are more than 100 viruses belonging to this family, however, only 8 affect humans. Do you want to know the 8 types of herpes? Keep reading!

All herpes viruses have considerable structural similarity. Despite this, they produce a large number of different diseases. The pathologies generated by these microorganisms can range from diseases of the skin and mucous membranes, to hepatitis and encephalitis.

Types of herpes

1. Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1)

HSV-1 is one of the most common types of herpes in men and women worldwide. Studies from Spain affirm that 90% of the population of that country have antibodies against this virus and around 40% suffer recurrent infections. It’s the agent that’s responsible for the clinical manifestations of cold sores, characterized by burning and stinging in the area.

The herpes simplex virus type 1 is usually acquired during childhood or adolescence, and can last a lifetime. It’s usually spread by direct oral contact.

In some people, transmission to the genital region by orogenital contact (oral sex) is possible, causing vesicles in the area. The virus is transmitted by contact with asymptomatic people or with active lesions.

In rare cases, pregnant mothers with vaginal HSV-1 infection can infect their newborns. In this sense, the infection is acquired when the newborn passes through the birth canal. Neonatal herpes can occur with orofacial and conjunctival lesions.

2. Herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2)

Herpes simplex virus type 2 is a large DNA virus with characteristics very similar to HSV-1. It’s the main cause of genital herpes, and is the most common sexually transmitted disease in developed countries. It’s usually acquired almost exclusively during sexual intercourse with an infected person.

Genital or anal mucosa, active vesicles, and genital secretions are direct means of transmission of HSV-2. Furthermore, transmission can occur in the absence of symptoms, this being the most frequent form. Genital herpes lesions usually manifest as ulcers or vesicles, both in the intimate parts and in the anal region.

On the other hand, this type of herpes is the main cause of neonatal herpes, even more frequently than HSV-1. Other forms of presentation include viral or aseptic meningitis, encephalitis, and myeloradiculitis. Similarly, HSV-2 is one of the most common infections in people with HIV and increases the risk of infection by the latter up to 3 times.

Types of herpes.
The labial form of herpes is caused by the HSV-1 variant.

3. Varicella-zoster virus (VZV)

The varicella-zoster virus is one of the types of herpes with an affinity for the cells of the skin and the nervous system. Primary VZV infection is responsible for common chickenpox in children.

Contagion occurs through direct contact with skin lesions or contaminated respiratory secretions. Studies suggest that the pathology has an incidence of 10% in those under 10 years of age.

Chickenpox is a rash-forming disease that’s usually benign and self-limited. It’s characterized by a maculopapular erythema that quickly evolves into vesicles filled with a translucent fluid. Similarly, patients often suffer from itching on the affected skin and small oral lesions. The vesicles turn into small scabs after a couple of days.

After the first infection, the virus remains latent in the dorsal nerve root ganglia and in the cranial nerves. Reactivation of VZV leads to the development of herpes zoster, typical of young adults and the elderly. This type of herpes manifests itself with skin lesions that follow the path of a nerve, accompanied by intense burning pain.

4. Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)

The Epstein-Barr virus is also called human herpes virus type 4. It’s responsible for infectious mononucleosis or kissing disease, and brings fever, pharyngitis, and swollen lymph nodes. Also, some people have tiredness that can persist for weeks or months.

In most cases, infection occurs through contact with contaminated body secretions, particularly saliva. In this sense, transmission is frequent when kissing, sharing food or objects that act as vehicles for secretions. Other forms of transmission include sexual contact, blood transfusions, and organ transplantation.

Generally, people acquire EBV during childhood or adolescence. The virus can be transmitted weeks and even months before symptoms appear. In addition, this is one of the types of herpes that can remain dormant and reactivate after a while.

Complications include ruptured spleen, respiratory obstruction, and neurological abnormalities.

5. Cytomegalovirus (CMV)

Cytomegalovirus is one of the most common types of herpes viruses in people of all ages. It’s also known as human herpes virus type 5 and is responsible for various infections, the severity of which depends on the immune status. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than 50% of American adults have been infected with CMV before age 40.

It’s usually transmitted through contaminated body fluids. Transmission in young children occurs through direct contact with urine or saliva. In addition, infants often contract the virus through breast milk. Similarly, the acquisition of CMV can occur during sexual intercourse or through organ transplantation and blood transfusions.

Primary infection is characterized by fever, lymphadenopathy, and pharyngitis, and can even promote latent EBV activation. In cases of congenital infection, it usually causes microcephaly, mental retardation, and deafness.

6. Human herpes virus type 6 (HHV-6)

HHV-6 is one of the types of herpes with an affinity for T lymphocytes. This virus is generally acquired during childhood and is widely distributed worldwide. Some research affirms that the most frequent manifestations occur in children under 2 years of age, of which 90% develop a sudden rash or roseola.

Roseola is a skin disease that brings a high fever and a rash that begins on the neck and torso, rapidly spreading to the extremities. The skin lesions are self-limited and disappear after a couple of days. The most common complication in children under 2 years of age is seizures.

Transmission of this virus occurs through contact with contaminated respiratory secretions. In addition, HHV-6 is capable of crossing the placenta and causing a congenital infection. People with HIV can develop pneumonia, meningitis, and encephalitis.

7. Human herpes virus type 7 (HHV-7)

Human herpes virus type 7 is a very common agent. It has a similar structure to HHV-6 and is usually transmitted through saliva. The submaxillary gland, the parotid gland, and the minor salivary glands are its main replication sites.

Similarly, HHV-7 is responsible for mild cases or relapses of roseola in older children. On the other hand, pityriasis rosacea is another of the diseases caused by this agent. This pathology is characterized by a skin rash with oval lesions that last up to 2 weeks, and can appear on the cheeks and tongue.

Erythema on the cheeks due to herpes virus.
Some types of herpes can cause outbreaks and erythema on the face, which are confused with other pathologies.

8. Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpes virus (KSHV)

This is also called human herpes virus type 8 (HHV-8). At present, this virus is believed to be responsible for the development of Kaposi’s sarcoma (KS). It’s a tumor-based pathology that usually occurs in immunocompromised people, whose proliferation occurs in blood and lymphatic vessels.

In most cases, infection occurs through exposure to contaminated saliva. However, it can also be transmitted through sexual contact, organ transplantation, and blood transfusions. In general, people with a healthy immune system don’t develop any type of symptoms.

A family of viruses with a high worldwide prevalence

The H erpesviridae family has a wide variety of types of herpes viruses responsible for diseases in people of all ages. HSV-1 and HSV-2 are the most common forms, being responsible for cold sores, and genital and neonatal sores. For their part, VVZ, HHV-6, and HHV-7 are included among the main causes of exanthematic and febrile childhood diseases.

Other types of herpes, such as EBV and CMV, are associated with congenital, perinatal, and HIV infections that can trigger various long-term complications. In addition, herpes viruses also have oncogenic potential.

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