Herpes Simplex Virus. Were did the name for the virus come from?
The herpes virus is somewhere between 6 million to 1.6 six million years according to one study conducted by researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.
But the first recorded cases of the virus are from the ancient Greek times. The first descriptions of the skin being affect by the Herpes Virus are from Hippocrates (400BC); he described spreading lesions. In Latin (from Greek) herpes means ‘shingles’, literally ‘creeping’, from (herpein)‘to creep’, this is a reference the spreading nature of herpetic skin lesions.
Shakespeare (the clever devil) suspected that Herpes was infectious and wrote in Romeo and Juliet, Queen Mab says “O’er ladies lips, who straight on kisses dreams, which oft the angry Mab with blisters plague, because their breaths with sweetmeats tainted are.”(Act 1 Scene 4 Line 75).
The modern reading of this is “Queen Mab often puts blisters on their lips because their breath smells like candy, which makes her mad.”(3) So Herpes even made it into iconic historical writings.
In 1736 (1) Herpes was first identified as the cause of a genital infection in women (2). But the human to human transmission was yet to be identified.
But in the year of 1873, French dermatologist Jean Baptiste Émile Vidal first noticed the human transmission of the infection between two people during his investigations various diseases in lupus and skin lichenification.
In the 20th century HSV research really took off. In the 1920's to 1930's it was discovered that the Herpes Virus not only infected the skin but also the central nervous system.
During the 1930's immune system responses to the Herpes virus were studied and the latency period of the virus was characterized.
In the 1960's HSV type 1 and 2 were isolated and identified (4). This lead to HSV type 2 being identified as the major cause of genital herpes.
Finally in 1986 the Herpes Virus was officially named (Herpes Simplex Virus: HSV) by Gertude and Werner Henle. After this the majority of research conducted focused on anti-viral medications and (unsuccessful) vaccines.