What is herpes simplex virus (HSV)?

Updated: Feb 16, 2018
  • Author: Sean P McGregor, DO, PharmD; Chief Editor: William D James, MD  more...
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Answer

Herpes simplex viruses (HSVs) are linear double-stranded DNA viruses that cause acute skin infections and present as grouped vesicles on an erythematous base. Rarely, these viruses can cause serious illness and can affect pregnancy, leading to significant harm to the fetus. Most infections are recurrent and tend to reappear at or near the same location. Herpes labialis is the most common infection caused by HSV type 1 (HSV-1), whereas genital herpes is usually caused by HSV type 2 (HSV-2). Other clinical manifestations of HSV infection are less common.

Characteristic cluster of vesicles on an erythemat Characteristic cluster of vesicles on an erythematous base. Photo courtesy of Dr. John Reeves.

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