The word herpes /ˈhɜɹ.piz/, in Spanish also herpes, pronounced /ˈeɾ.pes/, is used to refer to a number of diseases caused by viruses of the Herpesviridae family that cause skin eruptions (inflammatory diseases of the skin), but in particular to the one caused by one of those viruses known as herpes simplex virus (Sp. virus del herpes simple; genus: Simplexvirus). There are two species of this genus, herpes simplex virus 1 and herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-1 and HSV-2), also known as human herpesvirus 1 and 2 (HHV-1 and HHV-2).
The herpes virus lives in the nerve cells of affected individuals. When it is active, it travels to the skin or mucous membrane in the infected area and it replicates itself there. It is very contagious and it can be transmitted by open sores or infected saliva. After an initial infection, this virus does not go away but rather it goes into remission (latency) (Sp. remisión, latencia) inside the nerve cells. The latent form of the virus remains in most people only to reappear again in subsequent recurrences (Sp. reaparición).
HSV-1 affects primarily the face, lips, mouth, and the upper part of the body. A very common type is orolabial herpes, that is, herpes of the mouth and the lips, cf. oro‑ ‘mouth’ and oral ‘of the mouth’, labial ‘of the lips’ (Sp. herpes orolabial or úlceras peribucales). When it affects the entire mouth (lips, gums, tongue, roof of your mouth, inside of the cheeks) it is also known as oral herpes (Sp. herpes oral). More than half the population of the United States and about two thirds of the world population has oral herpes.The most common type affects the lips and is known technically by its Latin name, herpes labialis, though it is popularly known in English as cold sores or fever blisters. The technical term for cold sores in Spanish is herpes labial, though it is also known popularly as boquera or pupa, though these names can also refer to sores or ulcers in the mouth that are due to other causes. When this virus affects the face and the mouth, the infection is known as orofacial herpes (Sp. herpes orofacial).
HSV-2 causes genital herpes (Sp. herpes genital), also known as (just) herpes, though recently it has become known that HSV-1 can also be the cause of genital herpes. In either case, the herpes simplex virus spreads by contact with a person’s sores. Herpes is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (WP). It is less common than oral herpes, however. According to the CDC, in the United States, about 16% of those between 14 and 49 years of age have genital herpes.
Herpes simplex is not the only virus of the Herpesviridae family that affects humans. Of the more than 130 viruses in the family, there are nine of them that are known to infect humans. The other most common ones besides herpes simplex (Simplexvirus) is herpes zoster (Varicellovirus or varicella zoster virus), which causes chickenpox (also known as varicella) and shingles (also known as herpes zoster), which we will deal with in later sections.
English borrowed the word herpes from Latin herpēs in the late 14th century to name an inflammatory disease that creeps through the skin, most likely one or more of the herpes diseases. Latin herpēs was the name of a spreading skin eruption as well, though it is not clear which one. Lat. herpēs is a loanword from Ancient Greek ἕρπης (hérpēs), which literally meant ‘a creeping, crawling’. As far as we can tell, Greek herpes referred to either herpes simplex or, more likely, to shingles (see below). This Greek noun was derived from the verb ἕρπειν (hérpein) ‘to creep, crawl’ (Sp. reptar, arrastrarse). It is not clear whether this name was given to the disease because of how it advances on the skin or because of its recurrence and its creeping up on its sufferers.
Herpes is characterized by blisters in the skin or mucous membranes of the mouth, lips, nose or genitals caused by the virus which is active inside nerve cells and travel to the surface of the skin along those nerve cells. Once a person is infected and suffers the symptoms, these may go away only to come back in episodes of viral reactivation or outbreaks. In these outbreaks, the virus, which lies dormant inside nerve cells, becomes active again and is carried to the skin via the nerve cell’s axons, at which time the virus replicates itself, causing new sores.
As we can see, this disease was already recognized in Ancient Greece. The cause of the disease, however, did not begin to be understood until the end of the 19th century. It wasn’t until 1978 that the first safe anti-viral drug, acyclovir, was developed, that helped deal with the symptoms. However, a cure for herpes has not been found yet.
There is an adjective associated with the noun herpes, namely herpetic /həɹ.ˈpɛ.tɪk /, which Spanish has borrowed as herpético/a /eɾ.ˈpe.t̪i.ko/. Its meaning is, obviously, ‘of or pertaining to herpes, or to any herpesvirus or herpesvirus-caused disease’ (WK). It is a New Latin word formed in English in the 18th century with the regular stem herpet‑ (ἕρπητ‑) of the Greek word for herpes and the Latinate adjectival suffix ‑ic. This adjective is used in medical expressions such as the following:
- Eng. herpetic gingivostomatitis - Sp. gingivostomatitis herpética: orolabial herpes
- Eng. herpetic whitlow - Sp. panadizo herpético: a lesion on a finger or thumb caused by the herpes simplex virus
- Eng. herpetic stomatitis - Sp. estomatitis herpética: oral (mouth) herpes
- Eng. postherpetic neuralgia - Sp. neuralgia posherpética: nerve pain resulting from nerve cell damage caused by the varicella zoster virus or shingles (see below)