Our patron, Professor Simon Barton, was asked to do a short talk telling doctors about genital herpes, for a conference in Bucharest. Or really, he was asked to record a short video for the IUSTI virtual conference (about 700 delegates in 46 countries). He invited Marian Nicholson, our director, and Ceri Evans, the senior health adviser from Hammersmith, to join him for this ‘lecture’. He took as the topic: how we support patients in UK.
Helpline callers often ask whether any food or vitamin can help improve resistance to herpes simplex and prevent symptoms. Despite many claims, no ‘magic’ food or vitamin is guaranteed to do this.
Now people are asking what they should eat to make sure they don’t catch Covid-19. Or if they do catch it, how they can have a milder case. Medical experts (Covid Symptoms Study) are giving the same response as us: there is no single answer.
As you will have seen in the news, people with serious underlying health conditions are most at risk of having a bad case of Covid-19. It is difficult, if not impossible to make a long-term health problem disappear, so what can be done?
As you may know, people with serious underlying health conditions are more at risk from Covid-19. What can be done?
Medical reports suggest that people with low vitamin D levels may be harder hit with Covid-19, although experts are not agreed on how much it matters and why.
We have previously written about “Vitamin D for herpes” in SPHERE 34-1. Vitamin D can be a useful supplement for immune function and to reduce outbreaks.
Dark skin? Over 65? Vitamin D is the supplement for you
You get it naturally by sitting in the sun, (but not overdoing it). For people with light skins this means around 20 minutes’ exposure between 10 am and 3 pm in the summer months. At other times of the year the sun isn’t strong enough to help much. Darker skinned people will need greater sun exposure to benefit.
The NHS has long been advising that, amongst others, people over 65 and those with darker skin should be taking supplements of vitamin D. Our director, Marian Nicholson, has! She takes the recommended dose of 10 mcg (400 i.u.) of vitamin D to lessen the chance of an outbreak. And it does not just help with herpes simplex, she rarely gets a cold. If she does, it is gone in a day or so.
In addition, the Department of Health and Social Care recommends a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D throughout the year if you:
• are not often outdoors – for example, if you’re frail or housebound
• are in an institution like a care home
• usually wear clothes that cover up most of your skin when outdoors
• you have dark skin – for example you have an African, African- Caribbean or south Asian background.
The short answer is no – herpes antiviral medication will not help with flu. (This a question that we have been asked lately – of course!)
There are millions of different viruses in the world. The antiviral drugs that work to suppress herpes viruses have no impact on any of the other viruses. And this includes those that cause colds, flu and Covid-19. The antiviral medication for herpes simplex works against herpes varicella – chickenpox, but that’s it.
Will taking antivirals make any difference to getting Covid-19?
Taking antiviral pills will make no difference to your immune response – the pills work only on the virus, not on human cells at all.
– should people with herpes worry more about Covid-19?
The short answer is no. (This is the other question that has come up a lot!)
At least two thirds of adults carry herpes simplex infections (facial cold sores and/or genital herpes) by age 25 – all over the world. Herpes simplex may cause symptoms in people when they are ill or stressed. But its effect on the immune system of otherwise healthy people is minimal and having herpes is not likely to make any difference to people who catch Covid-19.
A single “tiny tube” is all they need. They are comparing antibodies in people with type 2 who do, and who don’t, get outbreaks. This could be helpful in future vaccine research. It is hoped that a vaccine could be used to treat people with too many outbreaks in order to give a “functional cure”. (This means to “take away the symptoms“.)
Interested? To help research: contact Dr Bret S. Palmer via e-mail at [email protected] to find out more and how you can take part in the study. (IRAS Project ID: 260102)
A shingles vaccine is offered to volunteers. Are over 50? And have you had shingles (herpes varicella)? If so, you might qualify for the trial to prove the effectiveness of the ‘other’ shingles vaccine. [Currently, the vaccine offered to people in their 70s is Zostavax. This is a single jab.]
This trial is about a two-jab shingles vaccine (immunisation). The manufacturer, GSK, is running a placebo-controlled trial. This means that you might get the real thing, or a sterile water (safe placebo) injection instead. You won’t know, and neither will the person who carries out the vaccination.
Doctors were glad to find materials to help their patients with all sorts of skin conditions. And the herpes information leaflet was appreciated. It offers treatment advice and also emotional support… Several doctors said things along the lines of “I didn’t know there was this kind of support for my patients and they can be very upset about it.” And a couple of doctors even thanked us for having the stand!!!
This week BBC Radio 4’s ‘Science Now’ mentioned ‘herpes’ in the coverage of research into the causes of MS and similar diseases. Within fifteen minutes we had three phone calls telling us about this, just because the word ‘herpes’ was mentioned.
Listeners who paid careful attention to what was said will have realised that the virus being discussed was Epstein Barr virus (EBV), one of the herpes family of viruses, but not herpes simplex of either type – so emphatically not the viruses that cause genital herpes. Your ‘herpes not implicated’ since you don’t have EBV.
Epstein-Barr virus (humanherpes virus 4) is the possible trigger for multiple sclerosis. The German scientist who was interviewed for ‘Science Now’ loosely referred to the ‘surname’ of the whole family of herpes viruses as he explained that it was Epstein-Barr that was in the frame.
His new study builds
on previous research and provides further evidence that multiple sclerosis may
be caused by a viral infection. The suspected virus,
the Epstein-Barr virus, is most commonly known as the cause of mononucleosis
or kissing disease. Most people become infected with it at some point in
their lives, often with no symptoms.
Coachella, the Californian music festival hit the news last week – for all the wrong reasons. Stories of a Coachella herpes epidemic were published by every second rate gossip blog and then repeated by news outlets that should have known better, like Newsweek, Metro and the Daily Mail.
There was no epidemic. The facts don’t stack up, as any journalist with half a brain should have realised, but the lure of another herpes headline, with accompanying clicks, was too much to resist.
The implication of the fake news coverage is that people are spreading herpes through having casual sex at the festival. Well festival goers might be having sex , but stories of a herpes epidemic are not supported by the facts.
HerpAlert is a smartphone app. The spike in the numbers of people who contacted HerpAlert began as soon as Coachella started. This is well inside the incubation period for herpes which is upwards of two days and often four/five days or up to two weeks. This means that the people who contacted HerpAlert already had herpes before they arrived at the festival. They were existing carriers who wished to use HerpAlert services.
Jose Arbello of the Riverside Department of Public Health said that his did not see any evidence of a rise in herpes cases, despite recent reports that HerpAlert saw a near tenfold uptick in cases in Southern California during the festival.
“My first reaction is that the whole thing is kind of silly because symptoms don’t typically show up in 24 hours,” said Dr Jill Grimes, a family doctor and author of Seductive Delusions: How Everyday People Catch STDs. “It can take anywhere from two to 12 days for symptoms to appear, although the average is three to four days,” says Grimes, who is on faculty at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and is spokesperson for the American Academy of Family Physicians.
An official with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said, “Herpes is not a reportable disease, as it is very common and has extremely rare complications; so trends in herpes cases are not easily tracked.”
It’s possible that HerpAlert’s spike in people using the app could be a result of increased advertising or marketing, a possibility that was raised by officials.
So there you have it. Don’t believe everything you read in the papers or online, especially in Newsweek, Metro or the Daily Mail.
You may have seen articles in newspapers/online about ‘herpes in astronauts’. As usual they misrepresent. So if you haven’t, don’t bother to search – they are uniformly misleading. Not just in Metro which you might expect, but even the Independent got it wrong. As we have written before, journalists only know about one type of herpes and assume the scientists are writing about genital herpes, whether they are or not!
As you might expect, any condition that reactivates when a body is under stress is likely to show up in astronauts. Now, after 60 years of men-in-space, scientists decided to measure the amounts of 4 different herpes viruses in saliva and urine. In about half the astronauts, they found shingles and two kinds of glandular fever present during space flight. In conclusion, it is useful for the astronauts to know that they should not kiss vulnerable people when they land, as the glandular fever-like viruses will continue to be present in saliva for up to a month after a long flight.
the Frontiers in Microbiology, Feb 2019, reported:
“Currently, 47 out of the 89 (53%) astronauts from
shuttle-flights and 14 out of 23 (61%)
astronauts from ISS [longer] missions shed
one or more herpes viruses in saliva/urine samples.”
There are 8 herpes viruses that humans may have, including chickenpox/ shingles (VZV) and several glandular fever-like illnesses EBV and CMV.