Herpes Simplex Virus: Structure and Function

Instructor: Jeremy Battista

Jeremy has a master of science degree in education.

Herpes is a virus that affects humans. It is one of the most common viruses to infect humans as it comes in a variety of different types. We look at the specific types of herpes simplex virus here.

Herpes Simplex Virus Explained

Herpes Simplex Virus is the name given to two of the human herpesvirus, mainly 1 (HSV1) and 2 (HSV2). These are the forms of herpes that typically cause cold sores and genital herpes. These are very contagious viruses that are transmitted via skin to skin contact and skin to blister or cold sore contact. It is one of the most common viruses in the world. Many people that become infected with the virus (HSV1) will develop antibodies and never have an outbreak after their first

Signs and Symptoms of Infection

Symptoms of a herpes infection are similar between HSV1 and HSV2. There exists some difference, however, between the two. Most commonly, the patient will experience flu-like symptoms or just a feeling of general illness. Fatigue is also a rather common symptom, as well as fever. Like most sicknesses, these are common symptoms. Unique to herpes is that fever blisters or cold blisters will form in the infected area.

Cold sore on a person
Cold Sore

In HSV1, we see cold sores form around a person's mouth. These typically go away within a few days but they are very contagious. In HSV2, blisters will form on and around the genitalia of the infected person. These can be very painful and will sometimes break. The scary part about all of these symptoms is that even without the sores or blisters, a person can still be infectious and pass herpes on to other people. Viral 'shedding' can occur, where the virus is present and will spread to others, or other places on the body. Essentially they spread it without even knowing. Pregnant women can pass the virus on to their unborn child, which can cause more complications for the baby.

Many people will develop antibodies to the virus after being infected one time but again, it is unknown whether you will develop symptoms again in your life. Some people get outbreaks often, some less often, and others never. Unfortunately, there is no cure for herpes but there are many antiviral drugs that can help reduce the symptoms and control the outbreaks associated with the virus.

Structure and Function of the Virus

Like most viruses, the herpes simplex virus consists of a few common features. There is the genetic material inside of a capsid. Around that is the tegument, followed by the envelope of the virus. Each feature has a specific functionality.

Basic example of the viral structure. Most viruses have a similar structure. This here is the Epstein Barr virus which is another herpevirus in humans. Similar to herpes simplex.
Basic Structure

The genetic material is key for the virus to copy and infect host cells. This is contained inside of the capsid which exists to protect that genetic material. The capsid is like your house, meant to keep you safe and sound. In the case of herpes simplex, the capsid is a icosahedral shape, which means it takes the shape of a icosahedron, or a twenty-sided polygon.

Outside of this is the tegument which contains proteins and enzymes. Again, these exist solely to aid the virus in replication (copying) of itself in order to quickly infect its host. These enzymes do exactly what enzymes are supposed to do, enhance and speed up a biological process; in this case, replication of the virus.

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