A Sexually Transmitted Disease…in the Brain?

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brain herpes

Among the human herpes viruses, three are neurotropic (capable of infecting nerve cells) and … are associated with severe human morbidity and mortality. – Handbook of Clinical Virology

Genital herpes, specifically Herpes Simplex Virus 2 (HSV-2)  may cause more damage to the brain than previously thought, according to researchers from the University Of Kentucky College Of Medicine. (JAMA, May 2008) (2).

In a paper published in May 2008 in JAMA Neurology, the authors wrote that “Herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) infection is responsible for significant neurological morbidity, perhaps more than any other virus. Seroprevalence studies suggest that as many as 45 million people in the United States have been infected with HSV-2, and the estimated incidence of new infection is 1 million annually. (2)”

genital herpes

Large numbers of these infected individuals will go on to develop neurological symptoms.

In fact, although HSV-1 can cause the development of encephalitis, HSV-2 generally causes meningitis.

HSV-2 may affect virtually any part of the central nervous system, including the retina, brain, brainstem, cranial nerves, spinal cord, and nerve roots. (2)

This is possible since HSV-2 establishes a latent infection. It sets up residence in nerve centers.

Specifically, it establishes a latent infection “in human peripheral sensory ganglia” according to a study published in the journal Immunological Reviews in August, 1996 (2).

The bottom line?

When the latent virus reactivates, neurological conditions may develop.


(1) Steiner I, “Herpes virus infection of the peripheral nervous system.” Handb Clin Neurol. 2013;115:543-58.

(2) Joseph R. Berger, MD; Sidney Houff, MD, PhD “Neurological Complications of Herpes Simplex Virus Type 2 Infection”- Published May 2008, Vol 65, No. 5

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