June 2012 

Human herpes virus-8 infection and its spread

Human herpes virus-8 (HHV-8) was discovered in 1994. Infection with this germ is associated with the following cancers and cancer-like conditions:

  • Kaposi’s sarcoma (KS)
  • Multicentric Castleman disease (MCD)
  • primary effusion lymphoma (PEL)

HHV-8 is sometimes called KS-associated herpes virus (KSHV).

HHV-8 is relatively common among men who have sex with men (MSM) and is generally uncommon in otherwise-healthy heterosexual men and women in high-income countries. HHV-8 is very likely spread by sexual contact. However, exactly which sexual behaviours spread HHV-8 is controversial and not clear.

HHV-8 is found in the saliva of infected people. Presumably such viruses are produced by HHV-8-infected B-cells found in the tonsils or nearby lymph nodes and tissues in the mouth and throat, or perhaps even in the cells lining the throat. These findings suggest that oral sex and other exposures to saliva (wet kissing, oral-anal contact) might be ways that HHV-8 is spread. However, researchers have not conducted the large, expensive and labour-intensive studies necessary to prove this.

In this issue of TreatmentUpdate, we discuss complications arising from HHV-8 infection.

— Sean R. Hosein