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When the media gets it wrong!

Daily Mail confuses different herpes viruses

Do you know the difference between genital herpes (caused by herpes simplex types 1 or 2) and glandular fever (caused humanherpes virus 4 i.e. Epstein Barr virus)? Of course you do, but the Daily Mail doesn’t! On 20th July 2016, health writer Mia De Graaf confused these viruses and also Kaposi’s sarcoma virus (humanherpes virus 8). Herpes simplex is not, ever involved in cancer-causing activities, HHV 4 and 8 are. Simples!

Marian Nicholson 20 July 2016

Can you get herpes from a sunbed?can you get herpes from a sunbed

This story resurfaces from time to time – Daily Mail, Huffington Post, Glamour – even the BBC.  The answer is no, but this is why people believe it:

“It’s not gonna happen but there is a reason for this myth. UV light can trigger cold sores because it damages the immune system in the skin. This is why some people get cold sores when they go skiiing or to hot sunny countries. So tanning could trigger a genital herpes episode in someone who has caught it previously, because of the UV light effect. In some cases this is the first outbreak the person has noticed – up to 80% of people with facial cold sores or genital herpes are unaware that they have been infected, though they may get an occasional minor spot or blemish – not enough to alert them. So the tanning bed triggers an obvious herpes episode – what does the person think? They think they’ve just caught it in the salon. The reality is they may have had it for years and not realised before.”

Nigel Scott 20 July 2016

Cold sores and Alzheimer’s

The papers have reported ‘herpes causes Alzheimer’s’. Err, no! The truth is that some scientists think that having various different infections including facial infection with herpes simplex contributes to the likelihood of Alzheimer’s but only if you have the APOE genotype. This explain why, when so many people have had the various infections they mention, only a small proportion develop this dementia.

Quote: “We are saying there is incontrovertible evidence that Alzheimer’s Disease has a dormant microbial component. We can’t keep ignoring all of the evidence,” said Douglas Kell, a professor at the University of Manchester’s School of Chemistry and one of the authors of the editorial.

The scientists named the herpes virus, chlamydia bacteria and spirochaete bacteria as possible causes of the disease. They argue in the editorial that antimicrobial drugs might help stop the progression of dementia. The experts said viruses and bacteria are common in the brains of elderly people.

Other scientists have stated they disagree with these findings!
Anyway, most of us reading this blog, don’t have facial infection, do we?
Marian, 10 March 2016

Which herpes?

Most journalists know little or nothing about ‘herpes’ so we frequently see news reports that misrepresent scientific discoveries. This is particularly sad when the stories appear in publications that are written for health professionals. You might assume that specialist journalists have some knowledge of the area they cover. Sadly, this is often not the case.

If news is about ‘herpes’, it will always get readers. Just put ‘herpes’ in the headline and – job done. Right? Wrong! There are (at the last count) nine human herpes viruses. They are all different; they are not ‘strains’ of herpes; they are different viruses. To call them strains is as ridiculous as calling an elephant ‘a strain of mouse’. (They are both mammals, so they both have a common ancestor if you go back in time, but that is as far as it goes.)

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So, to repeat, there are nine different herpes viruses. If the story is about chickenpox or shingles (caused by human herpes virus 3), there may perhaps be no mention of ‘herpes’. Many of the other herpes viruses are not so lucky and may be simply called ‘human herpes virus 8’, for example. This makes them ripe for exploitation by stupid journalists and editors. Once upon the time The Sun carried a story captioned ‘Pope has herpes’, above a paragraph about a bout of glandular fever (human herpes virus 4). You get the picture… And as far as we know, the Pope did not have genital herpes (caused by human herpes virus 1 or 2 – these are known as the herpes simplex viruses).

Sloppy journalism…

The latest example of this type of sloppy journalism appeared in ‘Medline Plus – Trusted health information for you’. The headline was ‘Herpes Virus Tied to Angina Risk, Study Suggests’. What did you think when you read this?

It is not until the fourth paragraph that we discovered that, “The condition can develop before conception, when an egg or sperm cell becomes infected with a strain of herpes virus that causes the common childhood disease known as roseola.” Roseola (human herpes viruses 6, 6A or 7) is caught by almost everyone before the age of two. It is not ‘a strain of herpes virus’ – it is a virus in its own right and has nothing to do with the herpes simplex viruses.

In the light of this, you might think that a headline like, ‘Roseola Tied to Angina Risk, Study Suggests’ might have been more accurate, but then fewer people would have read the article, because it wouldn’t have sounded so alarming – although roseola is probably even more common than herpes simplex. It would be astonishing if anyone who reads this has not had roseola.

As medical knowledge increases, we hear various stories about different herpes viruses. All these viruses stay in the body and some of them may have an extra effect in some of the people who catch them. Fortunately, the viruses responsible for genital herpes and cold sores (human herpes viruses 1 and 2) hide in the nerves and infect skin cells. They are extremely unlikely to do any more than this, so if we are going to worry about ‘herpes’, it is the other human herpes viruses, like roseola, that we should be paying more attention to. They deserve their own day out in the public glare.

So please let’s leave ‘herpes’ out of the headlines, unless it is herpes simplex we are talking about.
Nigel Scott, 19-08-15

50th anniversary of the Epstein-Barr virus

Dr Anthony Epstein (along with Mr Barr) found EBV. This virus is HHV4 – humanherpes [that’s the correct spelling] virus number 4. To celebrate this, Keble College, Oxford will have a conference in March 2014.
EBV is very different from HSV1 and HSV2, which are herpes simplex types 1 and 2. EBV does not cause any blisters/spots on the skin, but instead causes glandular fever – an illness that affects the whole body. It is passed on in saliva, so it has been nicknamed ‘the kissing disease’. It is extremely common, and there is no average frequency of recurrences, which most often just give the affected person a day or two of malaise. See their flyer for the event.
Marian Nicholson 1-11-13