HSV has been isolated from nearly all visceral and mucocutaneous sites. The clinical manifestations and course of HSV infection depend on the anatomic site involved, the age and immune status of the host, and the antigenic type of the virus. Primary HSV infections (i.e., first infections with either HSV-1 or HSV-2 in which the host lacks HSV antibodies in acute-phase serum) are frequently accompanied by systemic signs and symptoms. Compared with recurrent episodes, primary infections, which involve both mucosal and extramucosal sites, are characterized by a longer duration of symptoms and virus isolation from lesions. The incubation period ranges from 1 to 26 days (median, 6–8 days). Both viral subtypes can cause genital and oral-facial infections, and the infections caused by the two subtypes are clinically indistinguishable. However, the frequency of reactivation of infection is influenced by anatomic site and virus type. Genital HSV-2 infection is twice as likely to reactivate and recurs 8–10 times more frequently than genital HSV-1 infection. Conversely, oral-labial HSV-1 infection recurs more frequently than oral-labial HSV-2 infection. Asymptomatic shedding rates follow the same pattern.
Gingivostomatitis and pharyngitis are the most common clinical manifestations of first-episode HSV-1 infection, whereas recurrent herpes labialis is the most common clinical manifestation of reactivation HSV-1 infection. HSV pharyngitis and gingivostomatitis usually result from primary infection and are most common among children and young adults. Clinical symptoms and signs, which include fever, malaise, myalgias, inability to eat, irritability, and cervical adenopathy, may last 3–14 days. Lesions may involve the hard and soft palate, gingiva, tongue, lip, and facial area. HSV-1 or HSV-2 infection of the pharynx usually results in exudative or ulcerative lesions of the posterior pharynx and/or tonsillar pillars. Lesions of the tongue, buccal mucosa, or gingiva may occur later in the course in one-third of cases. Fever lasting 2–7 days and cervical adenopathy are common. It can be difficult to differentiate HSV pharyngitis clinically from bacterial pharyngitis, Mycoplasma pneumoniae infections, and pharyngeal ulcerations of noninfectious etiologies (e.g., Stevens-Johnson syndrome). No substantial evidence suggests that reactivation of oral-labial HSV infection is associated with symptomatic recurrent pharyngitis.
Reactivation of HSV from the trigeminal ganglia may be associated with asymptomatic virus excretion in the saliva, development of intraoral mucosal ulcerations, or herpetic ulcerations on the vermilion border of the lip or external facial skin. About 50–70% of seropositive patients undergoing trigeminal nerve-root decompression and 10–15% of those undergoing dental extraction develop oral-labial HSV infection a median of 3 days after these procedures. Clinical differentiation of intraoral mucosal ulcerations due to HSV from aphthous, traumatic, or drug-induced ulcerations is difficult.
In immunosuppressed patients, HSV infection may extend into mucosal and deep cutaneous layers. Friability, necrosis, bleeding, severe pain, and inability to eat or drink may result. The lesions of HSV mucositis are clinically similar to mucosal lesions caused by cytotoxic drug therapy, trauma, or fungal or bacterial infections. Persistent ulcerative HSV infections are among the most common infections in patients with AIDS. HSV and Candida infections often occur concurrently. Systemic antiviral therapy speeds the rate of healing and relieves the pain of mucosal HSV infections in immunosuppressed patients. The frequency of HSV reactivation during the early phases of transplantation or induction chemotherapy is high (50–90%), and prophylactic systemic antiviral agents such as IV acyclovir and penciclovir or the oral congeners of these drugs are used to reduce reactivation rates. Patients with atopic eczema may also develop severe oral-facial HSV infections (eczema herpeticum), which may rapidly involve extensive areas of skin and occasionally disseminate to visceral organs. Extensive eczema herpeticum has resolved promptly with the administration of IV acyclovir. Erythema multiforme may also be associated with HSV infections (see Figs. 70-9 and 25e-25); some evidence suggests that HSV infection is the precipitating event in ~75% of cases of cutaneous erythema multiforme. HSV antigen has been demonstrated both in circulatory immune complexes and in skin lesion biopsy samples from these cases. Patients with severe HSV-associated erythema multiforme are candidates for chronic suppressive oral antiviral therapy.
HSV-1 and varicella-zoster virus (VZV) have been implicated in the etiology of Bell’s palsy (flaccid paralysis of the mandibular portion of the facial nerve). Some but not all trials have documented quicker resolution of facial paralysis with the prompt initiation of antiviral therapy, with or without glucocorticoids. However, other trials have shown little benefit. Thus there is no consensus on the relative value of antiviral drugs alone, glucocorticoids alone, and the two modalities combined for the treatment of Bell’s palsy.
First-episode primary genital herpes is characterized by fever, headache, malaise, and myalgias. Pain, itching, dysuria, vaginal and urethral discharge, and tender inguinal lymphadenopathy are the predominant local symptoms. Widely spaced bilateral lesions of the external genitalia are characteristic (Fig. 216-1). Lesions may be present in varying stages, including vesicles, pustules, or painful erythematous ulcers. The cervix and urethra are involved in >80% of women with first-episode infections. First episodes of genital herpes in patients who have had prior HSV-1 infection are associated with systemic symptoms in a few patients and with faster healing than primary genital herpes. Subclinical DNAemia has been found in ~30% of cases of true primary genital herpes. The clinical courses of acute first-episode genital herpes are similar for HSV-1 and HSV-2 infection. However, the recurrence rates of genital disease differ with the viral subtype: the 12-month recurrence rates among patients with first-episode HSV-2 and HSV-1 infections are ~90% and ~55%, respectively (median number of recurrences, 4 and <1, respectively). Recurrence rates for genital HSV-2 infections vary greatly among individuals and over time within the same individual. HSV has been isolated from the urethra and urine of men and women without external genital lesions. A clear mucoid discharge and dysuria are characteristics of symptomatic HSV urethritis. HSV has been isolated from the urethra of 5% of women with the dysuria-frequency syndrome. Occasionally, HSV genital tract disease is manifested by endometritis and salpingitis in women and by prostatitis in men. About 15% of cases of HSV-2 acquisition are associated with nonlesional clinical syndromes, such as aseptic meningitis, cervicitis, or urethritis. A more complete discussion of the differential diagnosis of genital herpes is presented in Chap. 163.
Genital herpes: primary vulvar infection, with multiple, extremely painful, punched-out, confluent, shallow ulcers on the edematous vulva and perineum. Micturition is often very painful. Associated inguinal lymphadenopathy is common. (Reprinted with permission from K Wolff et al: Fitzpatrick’s Color Atlas & Synopsis of Clinical Dermatology, 5th ed. New York, McGraw-Hill, 2005.)
Both HSV-1 and HSV-2 can cause symptomatic or asymptomatic rectal and perianal infections. HSV proctitis is usually associated with rectal intercourse. However, subclinical perianal shedding of HSV is detected in women and men who report no rectal intercourse. This phenomenon is due to the establishment of latency in the sacral dermatome from prior genital tract infection, with subsequent reactivation in epithelial cells in the perianal region. Such reactivations are often subclinical. Symptoms of HSV proctitis include anorectal pain, anorectal discharge, tenesmus, and constipation. Sigmoidoscopy reveals ulcerative lesions of the distal 10 cm of the rectal mucosa. Rectal biopsies show mucosal ulceration, necrosis, polymorphonuclear and lymphocytic infiltration of the lamina propria, and (in occasional cases) multinucleated intranuclear inclusion-bearing cells. Perianal herpetic lesions are also found in immunosuppressed patients receiving cytotoxic therapy. Extensive perianal herpetic lesions and/or HSV proctitis is common among patients with HIV infection.
Herpetic whitlow—HSV infection of the finger—may occur as a complication of primary oral or genital herpes by inoculation of virus through a break in the epidermal surface or by direct introduction of virus into the hand through occupational or some other type of exposure. Clinical signs and symptoms include abrupt-onset edema, erythema, and localized tenderness of the infected finger. Vesicular or pustular lesions of the fingertip that are indistinguishable from lesions of pyogenic bacterial infection are seen. Fever, lymphadenitis, and epitrochlear and axillary lymphadenopathy are common. The infection may recur. Prompt diagnosis (to avoid unnecessary and potentially exacerbating surgical therapy and/or transmission) is essential. Antiviral chemotherapy is usually recommended (see below).
HSV may infect almost any area of skin. Mucocutaneous HSV infections of the thorax, ears, face, and hands have been described among wrestlers. Transmission of these infections is facilitated by trauma to the skin sustained during wrestling. Several recent outbreaks have illustrated the importance of prompt diagnosis and therapy to contain the spread of this infection.
HSV infection of the eye is the most common cause of corneal blindness in the United States. HSV keratitis presents as an acute onset of pain, blurred vision, chemosis, conjunctivitis, and characteristic dendritic lesions of the cornea. Use of topical glucocorticoids may exacerbate symptoms and lead to involvement of deep structures of the eye. Debridement, topical antiviral treatment, and/or IFN therapy hastens healing. However, recurrences are common, and the deeper structures of the eye may sustain immunopathologic injury. Stromal keratitis due to HSV appears to be related to T cell–dependent destruction of deep corneal tissue. An HSV-1 epitope that is autoreactive with T cell–targeting corneal antigens has been postulated to be a factor in this infection. Chorioretinitis, usually a manifestation of disseminated HSV infection, may occur in neonates or in patients with HIV infection. HSV and VZV can cause acute necrotizing retinitis as an uncommon but severe manifestation.
Central and Peripheral Nervous System Infections
HSV accounts for 10–20% of all cases of sporadic viral encephalitis in the United States. The estimated incidence is ~2.3 cases per 1 million persons per year. Cases are distributed throughout the year, and the age distribution appears to be biphasic, with peaks at 5–30 and >50 years of age. HSV-1 causes >95% of cases.
The pathogenesis of HSV encephalitis varies. In children and young adults, primary HSV infection may result in encephalitis; presumably, exogenously acquired virus enters the CNS by neurotropic spread from the periphery via the olfactory bulb. However, most adults with HSV encephalitis have clinical or serologic evidence of mucocutaneous HSV-1 infection before the onset of CNS symptoms. In ~25% of the cases examined, the HSV-1 strains from the oropharynx and brain tissue of the same patient differ; thus some cases may result from reinfection with another strain of HSV-1 that reaches the CNS. Two theories have been proposed to explain the development of actively replicating HSV in localized areas of the CNS in persons whose ganglionic and CNS isolates are similar. Reactivation of latent HSV-1 infection in trigeminal or autonomic nerve roots may be associated with extension of virus into the CNS via nerves innervating the middle cranial fossa. HSV DNA has been demonstrated by DNA hybridization in brain tissue obtained at autopsy—even from healthy adults. Thus, reactivation of long-standing latent CNS infection may be another mechanism for the development of HSV encephalitis.
Recent studies have identified genetic polymorphisms in two separate genes among families with a high frequency of HSV encephalitis. Peripheral-blood mononuclear cells from these patients (predominantly children) appear to secrete reduced levels of IFN in response to HSV. These observations suggest that some cases of sporadic HSV encephalitis may be related to host genetic determinants.
The clinical hallmark of HSV encephalitis has been the acute onset of fever and focal neurologic symptoms and signs, especially in the temporal lobe (Fig. 216-2). Clinical differentiation of HSV encephalitis from other viral encephalitides, focal infections, or noninfectious processes is difficult. Elevated cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) protein levels, leukocytosis (predominantly lymphocytes), and red blood cell counts due to hemorrhagic necrosis are common. While brain biopsy has been the gold standard for defining HSV encephalitis, a highly sensitive and specific PCR for detection of HSV DNA in CSF has largely replaced biopsy for defining CNS infection. Although titers of antibody to HSV in CSF and serum increase in most cases of HSV encephalitis, they rarely do so earlier than 10 days into the illness and therefore, although useful in retrospect, generally are not helpful in establishing an early clinical diagnosis. In rare cases, demonstration of HSV antigen, HSV DNA, or HSV replication in brain tissue obtained by biopsy is highly sensitive; examination of such tissue also provides the opportunity to identify alternative, potentially treatable causes of encephalitis. Antiviral chemotherapy with acyclovir reduces the rate of death from HSV encephalitis. Most authorities recommend the administration of IV acyclovir to patients with presumed HSV encephalitis until the diagnosis is confirmed or an alternative diagnosis is made. All confirmed cases should be treated with IV acyclovir (30 mg/kg per day in three divided doses for 14–21 days). After the completion of therapy, the clinical recurrence of encephalitis requiring more treatment has been reported. For this reason, some authorities prefer to treat initially for 21 days, and many continue therapy until HSV DNA has been eliminated from the CSF. Even with therapy, neurologic sequelae are common, especially among persons >50 years of age.
Computed tomography and diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging scans of the brain of a patient with left-temporal-lobe herpes simplex virus encephalitis.
HSV DNA has been detected in CSF from 3–15% of persons presenting to the hospital with aseptic meningitis. HSV meningitis, which is usually seen in association with primary genital HSV infection, is an acute, self-limited disease manifested by headache, fever, and mild photophobia and lasting 2–7 days. Lymphocytic pleocytosis in the CSF is characteristic. Neurologic sequelae of HSV meningitis are rare. HSV is the most commonly identified cause of recurrent lymphocytic meningitis (Mollaret’s meningitis). Demonstration of HSV antibodies in CSF or persistence of HSV DNA in CSF can establish the diagnosis. For persons with frequent recurrences of HSV meningitis, daily anti-viral therapy has reduced the occurrence of such episodes.
Autonomic nervous system dysfunction, especially of the sacral region, has been reported in association with both HSV and VZV infections. Numbness, tingling of the buttocks or perineal areas, urinary retention, constipation, CSF pleocytosis, and (in males) impotence may occur. Symptoms appear to resolve slowly over days or weeks. Occasionally, hypoesthesia and/or weakness of the lower extremities persists for many months. Transitory hypoesthesia of the area of skin innervated by the trigeminal nerve and vestibular system dysfunction (as measured by electronystagmography) are the predominant signs of disease. Whether antiviral chemotherapy can abort these signs or reduce their frequency and severity is not yet known. Rarely, transverse myelitis, manifested by a rapidly progressive symmetric paralysis of the lower extremities or Guillain-Barré syndrome, follows HSV infection. Similarly, peripheral nervous system involvement (Bell’s palsy) or cranial polyneuritis may be related to reactivation of HSV-1 infection.
HSV infection of visceral organs usually results from viremia, and multiple-organ involvement is common. Occasionally, however, the clinical manifestations of HSV infection involve only the esophagus, lung, or liver. HSV esophagitis may result from direct extension of oral-pharyngeal HSV infection into the esophagus or may occur de novo by reactivation and spread of HSV to the esophageal mucosa via the vagus nerve. The predominant symptoms of HSV esophagitis are odynophagia, dysphagia, substernal pain, and weight loss. Multiple oval ulcerations appear on an erythematous base with or without a patchy white pseudomembrane. The distal esophagus is most commonly involved. With extensive disease, diffuse friability may spread to the entire esophagus. Neither endoscopic nor barium examination can reliably differentiate HSV esophagitis from Candida esophagitis or from esophageal ulcerations due to thermal injury, radiation, or corrosives. Endoscopically obtained secretions for cytologic examination and culture or DNA detection by PCR provide the most useful material for diagnosis. Systemic antiviral chemotherapy usually reduces the severity and duration of symptoms and heals esophageal ulcerations.
HSV pneumonitis is uncommon except in severely immunosuppressed patients and may result from extension of herpetic tracheobronchitis into lung parenchyma. Focal necrotizing pneumonitis usually ensues. Hematogenous dissemination of virus from sites of oral or genital mucocutaneous disease may also occur, producing bilateral interstitial pneumonitis. Bacterial, fungal, and parasitic pathogens are commonly present in HSV pneumonitis. The mortality rate from untreated HSV pneumonia in immunosuppressed patients is high (>80%). HSV has also been isolated from the lower respiratory tract of persons with acute respiratory distress syndrome and prolonged intubation. Most authorities believe that the presence of HSV in tracheal aspirates in such settings is due to reactivation of HSV in the tracheal region and localized tracheitis in persons with long-term intubation. Such patients should be evaluated for extension of HSV infection into the lung parenchyma. Controlled trials assessing the role of antiviral agents used against HSV in morbidity and mortality associated with acute respiratory distress syndrome have not been conducted. The role of lower respiratory tract HSV infection in overall rates of morbidity and mortality associated with these conditions is unclear. HSV is an uncommon cause of hepatitis in immunocompetent patients. HSV infection of the liver is associated with fever, abrupt elevations of bilirubin and serum aminotransferase levels, and leukopenia (<4000 white blood cells/μL). Disseminated intravascular coagulation may also develop.
Other reported complications of HSV infection include monarticular arthritis, adrenal necrosis, idiopathic thrombocytopenia, and glomerulonephritis. Disseminated HSV infection in immunocompetent patients is rare. In immunocompromised patients, burn patients, or malnourished individuals, HSV occasionally disseminates to other visceral organs, such as the adrenal glands, pancreas, small and large intestines, and bone marrow. Rarely, primary HSV infection in pregnancy disseminates and may be associated with the death of both mother and fetus. This uncommon event is usually related to the acquisition of primary infection in the third trimester. Disseminated HSV infection is best detected by the presence of HSV DNA in plasma or blood.
Of all HSV-infected populations, neonates (infants younger than 6 weeks) have the highest frequency of visceral and/or CNS infection. Without therapy, the overall rate of death from neonatal herpes is 65%; <10% of neonates with CNS infection develop normally. Although skin lesions are the most commonly recognized features of disease, many infants do not develop lesions at all or do so only well into the course of disease. Neonatal infection is usually acquired perinatally from contact with infected genital secretions at delivery. Congenitally infected infants have been reported. Of neonatal HSV infections, 30–50% are due to HSV-1 and 50–70% to HSV-2. The risk of developing neonatal HSV infection is 10 times higher for an infant born to a mother who has recently acquired HSV than for other infants. Neonatal HSV-1 infections may also be acquired through postnatal contact with immediate family members who have symptomatic or asymptomatic oral-labial HSV-1 infection or through nosocomial transmission within the hospital. All neonates with presumed herpes should be treated with IV acyclovir and then placed on maintenance oral antiviral therapy for the first 6–12 months of life. Antiviral chemotherapy with high-dose IV acyclovir (60 mg/kg per day) has reduced the mortality rate from neonatal herpes to ~15%. However, rates of morbidity, especially among infants with HSV-2 infection involving the CNS, are still very high.
In the United States, 22% of all pregnant women and 55% of non-Hispanic black pregnant women are seropositive for HSV-2. However, the risk of mother-to-child transmission of HSV in the perinatal period is highest when the infection is acquired near the time of labor—that is, in previously HSV-seronegative women. The clinical manifestations of recurrent genital herpes—including the frequency of subclinical versus clinical infection, duration of lesions, pain, and constitutional symptoms—are similar in pregnant and nonpregnant women. Recurrences increase in frequency over the course of pregnancy. However, when women are seropositive for HSV-2 at the outset of pregnancy, no effect on neonatal outcomes (including birth weight and gestational age) is seen. First-episode infections in pregnancy have more severe consequences for mother and infant. Maternal visceral dissemination during the third trimester occasionally occurs, as does premature birth or intrauterine growth retardation. The acquisition of primary disease in pregnancy, whether related to HSV-1 or HSV-2, carries the risk of transplacental transmission of virus to the neonate and can result in spontaneous abortion, although this outcome is relatively uncommon. For newly acquired genital HSV infection during pregnancy, most authorities recommend treatment with acyclovir (400 mg three times daily) or valacyclovir (500–1000 mg twice daily) for 7–10 days. However, the impact of this intervention on transmission is unknown. The high HSV-2 prevalence rate in pregnancy and the low incidence of neonatal disease (1 case per 6000–20,000 live births) indicate that only a few infants are at risk of acquiring HSV. Therefore, cesarean section is not warranted for all women with recurrent genital disease. Because intrapartum transmission of infection accounts for the majority of cases, abdominal delivery need be considered only for women who are shedding HSV at delivery. Several studies have shown no correlation between recurrence of viral shedding before delivery and viral shedding at term. Hence, weekly virologic monitoring and amniocentesis are not recommended.
The frequency of transmission from mother to infant is markedly higher among women who acquire HSV near term (30–50%) than among those in whom HSV-2 infection is reactivated at delivery (<1%). Although maternal antibody to HSV-2 is protective, antibody to HSV-1 offers little or no protection against neonatal HSV-2 infection. Primary genital infection with HSV-1 leads to a particularly high risk of transmission during pregnancy and accounts for an increasing proportion of neonatal HSV cases. Moreover, during reactivation, HSV-1 appears more transmissible to the neonate than HSV-2. Only 2% of women who are seropositive for HSV-2 have HSV-2 isolated from cervical secretions at delivery, and only 1% of infants exposed in this manner develop infection, presumably because of the protective effects of maternally transferred antibodies and perhaps lower viral titers during reactivation. Despite the low frequency of transmission of HSV in this setting, 30–50% of infants with neonatal HSV are born to mothers with established genital herpes.
Isolation of HSV by cervicovaginal swab at the time of delivery is the greatest risk factor for intrapartum HSV transmission (relative risk = 346); however, culture-negative, PCR-positive cases of intrapartum transmission are well described. New acquisition of HSV (odds ratio [OR] = 49), isolation of HSV-1 versus HSV-2 (OR = 35), cervical versus vulvar HSV detection (OR = 15), use of fetal scalp electrodes (OR = 3.5), and young age confer further risk of transmission, whereas abdominal delivery is protective (OR = 0.14). Physical examination poorly predicts the absence of shedding, and PCR far exceeds culture in terms of sensitivity and speed. Therefore, PCR detection at the onset of labor should be used to aid clinical decision-making for women with HSV-2 antibody. Because cesarean section appears to be an effective means of reducing maternal-fetal transmission, patients with recurrent genital herpes should be encouraged to come to the hospital early at the time of delivery for careful examination of the external genitalia and cervix as well as collection of a swab sample for viral isolation. Women who have no evidence of lesions can have a vaginal delivery. The presence of active lesions on the cervix or external genitalia is an indication for cesarean delivery.
If first-episode exposure has occurred (e.g., if HSV serologies show that the mother is seronegative or if the mother is HSV-1-seropositive and the isolate at delivery is found to be HSV-2), many authorities would initiate antiviral therapy for the infant with IV acyclovir. At a minimum, samples for viral cultures and PCR should be obtained from the throat, nasopharynx, eyes, and rectum of these infants immediately and at 5- to 10-day intervals. Lethargy, skin lesions, or fever should be evaluated promptly. All infants from whom HSV is isolated 24 h after delivery should be treated with IV acyclovir at recommended doses.