Herpes Simplex 1 (HSV – 1) Simplified

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If you’re a person who gets the occasional cold sore, then you’ve probably heard of a virus called Herpes simplex 1. Herpes simplex virus or HSV is the cause of those painful sores around your mouth.

HSV belongs to a family of viruses called “Herpes viruses”. This ill-favoured family also includes viruses which cause mono, chicken pox, and shingles. Even though they share, a family, having one of these viruses doesn’t mean you’ll get the others.

The Two Variants of Herpes simplex Virus

Herpes simplex - 1 outbreak on the lips
Herpes simplex – 1 outbreak on the lips

This also applies to the Herpes simplex virus, which comes in two variants called HSV – 1 and HSV – 2. Generally cold sores are attributed to the first type – HSV – 1. While their more “sensitive” equivalent, general Herpes is attributed to HSV – 2.

But either type (type 1 or type 2) can occur in the oral or genital area. Still, HSV – 1 is the culprit behind some 50 to 80% of cold sore casualties.

Microscopic view of the Herpes simplex 1 virus
Microscopic view of the Herpes simplex 1 virus

So how does HSV – 1 it work?

Once you’ve exposed to HSV for the first time, the virus enters your body, replicates itself, and spreads. For some, this leads to their first ever cold sore. Often accompanied by fever, sore throat, and swollen lymph nodes.

For others, these initial symptoms are so minor they’ll go undetected. But no matter the severity, the body looks on HSV as an invader and sends immune system forces to attack it. HSV responds by retreating along nerve pathways and hunkering down in a group of nerves at the top of the spine called the “ganglia”.

Once there, the virus goes to sleep or enters what is called as latency. Unfortunately though, HSV wakes up. Nobody is a hundred percent sure why and they’ll live in your body forever. When it wakes, it travels up the nerve pathways and back to the site of the original infection.