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Overview of Herpesvirus Infections

By

Kenneth M. Kaye

, MD, Harvard Medical School

Last full review/revision Sep 2021| Content last modified Oct 2021
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Eight types of herpesviruses infect humans (see Table: Herpesviruses That Infect Humans Herpesviruses That Infect Humans Eight types of herpesviruses infect humans (see Table: Herpesviruses That Infect Humans). After initial infection, all herpesviruses remain latent within specific host cells and may subsequently... read more ). After initial infection, all herpesviruses remain latent within specific host cells and may subsequently reactivate. Clinical syndromes due to primary infection can vary significantly from those caused by reactivation of these viruses. Herpesviruses do not survive long outside a host; thus, transmission usually requires intimate contact. In people with latent infection, the virus can reactivate without causing symptoms; in such cases, asymptomatic shedding occurs and people can transmit infection.

Despite the fact that the herpesviruses are genetically and structurally similar, they cause a wide array of generally non-overlapping clinical syndromes.

In contrast to other herpesviruses which are not known to cause malignancy, Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and human herpesvirus type 8 (HHV-8), also known as Kaposi sarcoma–associated herpesvirus (KSHV), can cause certain cancers.

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Drug Treatment of Herpesviruses

Drugs that have activity against herpesviruses include acyclovir, cidofovir, famciclovir, fomivirsen, foscarnet, ganciclovir, idoxuridine, penciclovir, trifluridine, valacyclovir, valganciclovir, and vidarabine (see Table: Drugs Used to Treat Herpesvirus Infections Drugs Used to Treat Herpesvirus Infections Eight types of herpesviruses infect humans (see Table: Herpesviruses That Infect Humans). After initial infection, all herpesviruses remain latent within specific host cells and may subsequently... read more ).

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