Sunday, 16 August 2009
Reading the latest Private Eye magazine column by M.D. (the comedian doctor Phil Hammond) on herpes simplex outbreaks has provoked bemusement.
I think M.D., despite his new role as patron of the Herpes Viruses Association, may have shown a disservice to the many people with cold sores or genital blisters as he wittered on about how, back in the olden days, people would panic unnecessarily about the herpes family of viruses being linked to a sexually transmitted disease.
He declaimed those who made a stigma out of the virus: 'Herpes does far more psychological damage than physical.' Then, continuing on his juicy theme, he helpfully put down transmission and cause of facial cold sores to...oral sex.
So much for trying to get rid of the stigma!
The HVA website is clear that, while all mucous membranes are particularly vulnerable, the virus can be passed through any skin to skin contact with friction, including via the hands. White lesions on the hands, caused by herpes simplex, are called whitlows.
Amid normal day-to-day conversation I have encountered no one of my generation or younger embarrassed to talk of obvious cold sores on their faces or of the known cause - herpes.
M.D.'s cheerful obsession with sexual transmission of herpes seems to say more about the stage of life reached by his (male) generation.
M.D. concludes of genital sores: 'They're only cold sores and they go away without treatment.' Really?
Other physicians in the US and elsewhere accept that a notable proportion of people continue to have chronic outbreaks of herpes simplex. A common suggestion is that it results from underlying suppression of the immune system.
Information on the HVA website tells us that 'three quarters of people with herpes simplex are unaware of it' and that the virus can cause - or the diagnosis be confused with - thrush, repeated cystitis-like symptoms, skin lesions on the buttocks, piles, lower back pain, nerve pain, flu symptoms and more.
Research worldwide has found herpes simplex (plus other viruses and bacterial infections) in patients with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue.There are also several studies that have found herpes simplex surrounding plaques in the brains of Alzheimer's patients; findings which require further investigation.
Anyone with unexplained nerve pain at the neck, or persistent muscle pains might like to know these facts. Not that I am putting such conditions down to herpes - I don't give simplistic answers like M.D.
At the HVA's AGM the genitourinary specialist Dr George Kinghorn explained that the relationship between Type 1 (symptoms from the neck up) and Type 2 (from the waist down) of the virus is much less clear cut than previously thought. And he notes that symptoms and severity 'will also depend on a variety of individual susceptibility factors, our genetic make-up certainly has an effect'.
Inherited genetic factors could be one area of further study. So too could the genetic damage caused to human cells by forms of persistent bacteria like streptococcus and E.coli, which molecular scientists are now revealing to be much cleverer at changing their surrounding human environment than we first believed.
Investigation is needed in to what, I think, is a complex rather than a simplex subject.