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Self-Study STD Module - Genital Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) Infection

Pathogenesis and Microbiology

HSV is a double-stranded DNA virus surrounded by an envelope of lipid glycoprotein. All herpes viruses establish latent infection in specific target cells.

(Click on image for larger view)
Transmission electron micrograph of herpes simplex virus

HSV infection persists despite the host immune response, often resulting in recurrent disease. Re-infection can rarely occur despite partial immunity.

Transmission of HSV usually occurs through close contact with a person who is shedding virus at a peripheral site, mucosal surface, or in genital or oral secretions. HSV penetrates susceptible mucosal surfaces or abraded cracks in the skin. At the time of initial infection, the virus is transported along peripheral nerve axons to the nerve cell bodies’ sacral ganglia. The virus remains latent indefinitely in the paraspinous ganglia.

Reactivation, is precipitated by multiple known (trauma, fever, ultra-violet light, stress, etc.) and unknown factors; and induces viral replication.

Up to 90% of persons seropositive for HSV-2 antibody have not been diagnosed with genital herpes. However, many have mild or unrecognized disease, and probably most, if not all shed virus from the genital area intermittently. 

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Page last modified: June 3, 2009
Page last reviewed: June 3, 2009

Content Source: Division of STD Prevention, National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention

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