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Herpes Virus was Passed On to Humans 1.6 Million Years Ago: Study

Herpes Infected Humans Much before Evolution
(Photo : Flickr) Herpes Infected Humans Much before Evolution

Herpes virus was passed on to humans by primate ancestors, according to a study.

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Herpes simplex virus type-1 and type-2 or HSV-1 and HSV-2 spread from person to person through close contact like sexual activity, saliva and skin. Experts from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine discovered the virus infected hominids or our bipedal ancestors much before evolution. The virus first infected chimpanzees 6 million years ago and then was passed on to hominids about 1.6 million years ago. Among primates only humans carry both HSV-1 AND HSV-2 viruses.   

For the study, researchers examined HSV-1 and HSV-2 gene sequences to the pedigree of simplex viruses in eight monkeys and ape host species. The advanced models of molecular evolution helped determine the period of advent of the virus in humans. The genetic data of both humans and primate herpes virus revealed HSV-1 prevailed in humans much before HVS-2. This called for further study on HSV-2 to identify its origin.

It was observed HSV-2 had close genetic similarities with the herpes virus found in chimpanzees. This indicates that we acquired the virus from the forerunners of modern chimpanzees before the age of Homo sapiens or modern humans almost 200,000 years ago.

According to the study reports, about two-third of human population are infected with one of the two HSV viruses that usually occur like cold sores on mouth, lips and rashes or blisters on genitals.

These findings explain the evolution of viruses and its nature to prevent occurrence of diseases and deadly infections in humans.

"Animal disease reservoirs are extremely important for global public health. Understanding where our viruses come from will help guide us in preventing future viruses from making the jump into humans," said Joel O. Wertheim, study author and assistant research scientist at the University of California San Diego Anti-Viral Research Center, in a news release.

"Comparing virus gene sequences gives us insight into viral pathogens that have been infecting us since before we were humans."

More information is available online in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution.

Jun 11, 2014 08:58 AM EDT

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