HIV may be the most dreaded for STD in the US but genital herpes is the most common and more prevalent. To add insult to injury, it’s the most painful and frustrating among all STDs. Its main frustration comes from frequent eruptions around genitals, mouth, or rectum. You can manage it for some time, shorten the outbreaks, and minimize the painful condition for each outbreak, but there’s no permanent relief from this as there are no cures to genital herpes so far.

A recent study, however, seems hopeful for the victims of this STD. A subtype of immune cells, as researchers say, seem to have the power to suppress this painful outbreaks. These newly identified cells seem to have a profound effect on HSV-2 or genital herpes.

This discovery is no small feat. A painful and incurable disease such as genital herpes is very bothersome. If you find some means to control it beyond a certain point, it is as good as a cure. But the good thing is that this discovery can lead to a possible vaccine for HSV-2. What else can an individual with this STI ask for?

The newfound CD8??+ T-cells

These newly identified T-cells are called CD8??+ T-cells. They promise more breakthroughs in near future though we don’t have much information about them at present. Once turned on, they create all sorts of antiviral substances and antibodies. Dr. Larry Corey who is an internationally renowned virologist and president and director of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, claims that this can be a possible breakthrough we are looking for.

We can only get a relapse when the HSV-2 reactivates. At the point of reactivation of this virus, these cells are the first to act to contain this virus. These T-cells are very fast and effective in their reaction. They are capable of containing the virus even before they reach the skin. This refocuses our attention from the “ganglion level of the spinal canal area” to the new T-cells. These CD8??+ T-cells are located in the DEJ – the layer of tissue just below the skin’s surface. This conclusion comes from the research of Dr. Corey and his colleagues.

This test is a type of laser capture of the tissue from the dermal-epidermal junction (DEJ.) It’s the place where the outer layer of skin (dermis) – connects to the epidermis. These cells that are located in the DEJ are responsible for controlling HSV-2, so this implies that herpes reactivation is controlled in the skin, not the ganglions in the spine.

A possible HSV-2 Vaccine

This research made another startling discovery– these T-cells (CD8??+) are programmed to remain in the skin surrounding the genitals at all times, so they are the resident memory T-cells. Their presence also makes sense about the asymptomatic recurrences of genital herpes. These cells are persistently on “immune surveillance” to seek and destroy HSV-2.

Dr. Corey says, “The real implication here is that the way herpes seems to act is that the virus is actually reactivating very frequently. The human immune response is containing it most of the time.” This finding corrects the older belief — “herpes reactivated once a month.” In the present condition, we can say the virus actually reactivates at least once in a week or at least in a few days than earlier believed. An outbreak can confirm a reduced number of CD8??+ T-cells at that point of time, so the eruption could not be contained.

The earlier findings of CD8??+ T-cells were associated with the study of blood circulation. These cells were known to exist in the gut mucosa. Dr. Corey and his team are the first to link them to the skin. We have to now find out ways to increase the presence of the cells in our immune system. If we succeed we can have the first breakthrough towards the much awaited HSV vaccine.

At least, this can be the starting point to guide an idea towards a test vaccine. If we can find a way to increase the number or function of these T-cells that would be one route we would want to take first. Like many other vaccines, this method would ensure safety from any side effects. This vaccine can help people to almost go without outbreaks, even when the stage of genital herpes is most contagious.

Even though this vaccine may not cure those of HSV-2, it could ultimately help stop the spread of it. With a CDC figure of 776,000 people in the United States added to the “infected with herpes” group each year, it is mean task if we can stop the infection of HSV.