History Of Herpes Simplex Virus

Herpes simplex has been around for a very long time, although it has only been fully understood in the last hundred years. It is one of the oldest sexually transmitted infections known to man and has been documented and treated (with varying methods and limited success) for thousands of years. Herpes has a very interesting history, starting in ancient Greece:

Herpes in Greece

  • Herpes was first formally recognized by Hippocrates (460 to 370 BCE), who wrote about the symptoms of herpes lesions.
  • The word herpes is taken from the Greek "herpein," meaning to creep or crawl. This refers to the way the herpes sores spread over the affected area.

Herpes in Rome

  • Later on, in Roman times, the Roman Emperor Tiberius tried to quell an oral herpes outbreak by banning kissing at public celebrations, events, and ceremonies.
  • A Roman physician named Celsus developed a treatment method for herpes that involved cauterizing open herpes lesions with a hot iron.

Herpes and Shakespeare (1500's to 1600's)

It is believed that Shakespeare mentioned oral herpes in Romeo and Juliet:

"O'er ladies" lips Which oft the angry Mab with blisters plagues, Because their breaths with sweetmeats tainted are. Act 1. Scene IV"

Apparently, herpes was recognized but not well understood in Shakespeare's time. Eating sweetmeats (confections) will not give you oral herpes, nor will an imaginary fairy named Queen Mab.

Herpes in the 1800's

  • In 1893, French scientist Emile Vidal proved through experimentation that herpes was transmitted from one person to another.
  • In 1884 Louis Duhring, an American dermatologist, confirmed that herpes was different from eczema and pemphigus, which are non-contagious skin conditions.
  • Two years later, in 1886, French doctors Charles-Paul Diday and Adrien Doyon published a full-length book about herpes called "The Genital Herpes."
  • Viruses were discovered by Dmitri Ivanovski in Russia in 1893. Although Ivanovski was studying tobacco viruses, not herpes viruses, his research later became important for studying herpes.
  • In 1896 German physician Paul Unna develops a way to differentiate herpes from syphilis under a microscope. This is important because previously it was not possible to identify the difference between herpes and syphilis since they often occurred concurrently.

Herpes in the 1900's

  • 1913: Wilhelm Grater, a German ophthalmologist, is able to transmit the herpes virus from an infected person to the cornea of a rabbit and back again to a human . This is named the Grater test, which is used to diagnose herpes until the 1940's.
  • In 1925 an American virologist, Ernest Goodpasture, proves that the herpes virus travels through the nerves, not the blood.
  • In 1939, Frank LacFarlane Burnet, an Australian microbiologist, develop the theory of latency, or the fact that the herpes virus resides in the ganglions while there are no symptoms. In 1971 scientists Jack Stevens and Marjorie Cook prove it.
  • A French scientist, Arnaud Tzanck develops cryto-diagnosis for herpes, which replaces the Grater test.
  • In 1978, the first anti-viral drug, Acyclovir, that was safe, non-toxic, and effective is tested in humans. It was developed by Gertrude Elion, and three years later was available commercially.

Herpes research is ongoing, although a cure has not yet been found.




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