Herpes and HIV/AIDS

There are thousands of different herpes strains that have been identified; however, there are only eight that impact human beings.

· Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) I - cold sores

· Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) II - genital herpes

· Varicella Zoster Virus - chicken pox

· Human Herpes Virus 6 - roseola

· Human Herpes Virus 8 - Kaposi's Sarcoma

· Epstein-Barr Virus

· Cytomegalovirus

· Human B-Lymphotropic Virus

Herpes Simples Virus I & II

Of these viruses, the ones we are most familiar with are HSV I and HSV II. The connection with HSV II is in terms of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). When a person is infected with the HSV virus, they have it for life. The virus stays in the cells of the skin and nerves, making the infected person a carrier, whether the virus manifests or not. Flare-ups can happen randomly and without provocation.

An HSV I flare-up usually causes cold sores (oral herpes). Tingling spots on the lips turn into sores that can spread to the nose and onto the gums. An HSV II flare-up manifests with genital sores or anal ulcers and sometimes arrives with a headache, fever, muscle aches and lethargy - similar symptoms to the flu. Both varieties usually begin with lesions that can be numb, tingling or itchy, indicating the virus is traveling up a nerve. Once it arrives onto the skin, small bumps appear that quickly morph into blisters that burst, crust over and become unsightly sores. A person with a normal immune system will usually heal in about a week's time.

When Herpes Meets HIV

People with genital herpes, HSV II, are at greater risk of being infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Conversely, a person with HIV can be gravely affected if he or she contracts the HSV II.

HSV is passed on by person-to-person contact, by kissing or sexual contact and it can be passed on even when sores are not present. This means that a person can pass the virus to someone without knowing it. On the other side of the coin, people with genital herpes sores are more likely to become infected with HIV during intercourse. When a sore manifests, the antibodies in the blood do their best to heal it. Therefore, there are a large number of immune cells concentrated in the spot where there is a sore. It is the immune cells that are attacked by HIV. If the sore comes in contact with infected semen, vaginal fluid or blood the risk of contracting HIV is very high.

HSV and HIV play off one another, thus making the combination a deadly duo. Research indicates that when HSV is active it has the potential to cause HIV to replicate more than it would without the presence of HSV. The more HIV is present, the more immune system cells are destroyed eventually leading the AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), which is the lack of immunities to fight off infection.

A person who has been infected with both HIV and HSV may end up with more intense, severe, longer-lasting and painful flare-ups of herpes symptoms as a result of having a weakened immune system. When HIV weakens the immune system there is not enough fight in the cells to keep herpes at bay.

Treating HIV When HSV is Present

Treating herpes in a person with HIV is very challenging. Often much higher doses of antiviral drugs are required for treatment of herpes in HIV infected individuals. Additionally, many strains of herpes virus that are drug resistant are present in HIV infected people, which makes treatment with standard drugs impossible. If antiviral drugs used for the treatment of herpes fail to work, the doctor should test for virus resistance. If there is greater resistance, then a different drug protocol can be developed to address the symptoms of herpes.

What is important is that if a person with either HSV or HIV has been exposed to the opposite virus, testing should be done as soon as possible to determine the best and most effective course of action.

STDs are common, especially HSV. Learn more about sexually transmitted diseases, how they affect a person and how best to avoid them by reading more about it in the various articles in this section.

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