Herpes is not fun. Not fun to talk about, not fun to read about and certainly not fun to have. Herpes, also known as HSV-1 and HSV-2, is pretty much everywhere and people are only now starting to realize it. According to The World Health organization, an estimated 3.7 billion people under the age of 50 has herpes. That means roughly 67% of the population of the Earth has herpes.
To put it on a smaller scale, the American Center for Disease Control has reported that “likely more than one out of every six people aged 14 to 49 years have herpes,” and America isn't the only country to struggle. A Stats Canada study conducted from 2009 to 2011 found that one in seven Canadians ages 16 to 54 have a form of HSV. Even outside of North America there have been reports of herpes outbreaks on the rise, including a study in Norway that found that “90% of genital internal infections were due to HSV-1.”
Why does everyone have herpes?
Before everyone panics, wraps themselves in latex and never leaves the house there are a few facts to consider. HSV-1 is the most common type of herpes to have, but it usually causes sores around the mouth and lips. In other words, HSV-1 is what most people call cold sores. Most times it is passed through saliva or sharing of an infected item. It can cause genital herpes, also known as HSV-2, usually staying dormant in an infected person, only occasionally causing breakouts.
HSV-2 is the herpes strain most commonly associated with genital herpes. The stigma having kind, the one your parents told you you'd get if you dated that girl with the lip ring. Like all forms of herpes, it unfortunately also stays dormant for years in a person without manifesting itself in a physical form. This causes many individuals to unknowingly spread the virus from person to person without realizing what they're doing. The infection itself isn't life threatening, but it does cause social stigma more than anything else, but maybe not for too long.
The process for a cure
Recently a study was published in PLOS Pathogens on a potential vaccine that could destroy the herpes virus. The open-access journal is based around publishing peer-reviewed papers on bacteria, fungi, parasites, prions and viruses that contribute to understanding the biology of pathogens. The journal made it clear that the study of author Harvey M. Friedman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, could be the next step in curing the herpes virus.
Friedman's work explained the reason why the herpes virus is so hard to destroy, which is because of its latent stage activity. “During latency, the herpes viruses express only few viral gene products allowing them to persist in the host without being effectively cleared by our immune system.” His work goes on to further explain that, “during this stage, herpes viruses are not actively replicating their viral genomes by viral DNA polymerases, rendering antiviral treatments targeting these polymerases ineffective.”
Friedman's study did, however, find a way to work around this process. His work started by finding a method of editing the virus's ability to avoid detection. The process uses a CRISPR/Cas (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) to target the viral gene and, “completely impaired the production of new infectious particles from human cells.” In other words, the process stopped the virus from spreading, stopping its ability to hide itself in new cells from the human immune system.
The initial trials have only been conducted on macaque monkeys, due to their similar immune system, and guinea pigs because they share similar physical symptoms to humans when exposed to the virus. It was pointed out by Popular Science, a monthly magazine about current science and technology, that a lack of funding is what is keeping the vaccine from the pharmaceutical market, and even then it could be years before it becomes widely available to the public.
When so many people have a problem, it tends to get solved, or at the very least looked at. In the case of herpes, it may be dealt with sooner rather than later. This means that maybe the same method of destroying herpes could be applied to other viruses. How long until other incurable infections and viruses are being wiped out? With the right people like Friedman and other gene editing technology surfacing, the end of life threatening disease may be in our grasp.