New Discovered Origin of the Herpes Simplex Virus from Africa

Recent research has shown that more recent events, which include the eighteenth-century slave trade led to the viral dispersal of the herpes simplex virus. The herpes virus is an infection that exists in two strains: HSV virus type 1 and type 2. The former is commonly transmitted by oral contact and infect its victims around the mouth. But the type 2 HSV is transmitted sexually. 

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Until now, there have been lots of misconceptions and assumptions about the origin of this virus in humans. But recently, an Italian team conducted a study on the herpes virus and discovered some surprising facts about its origin and history. 

Type 1 of the herpes virus primarily affects the skin and causes orofacial lesions. While the type 2 herpes virus, which is best described as a sexually transmitted disease is the primary cause of genital herpes experience by many people. 

In recent years, the virus has spread out its tentacles and affected more than 3.7 billion people globally. In the long run, the infection can lead to fatal consequences for anyone. 

During pregnancy, a pregnant woman who is carrying the virus can infect an unborn child upon delivery, and the consequences can be fatal for the newborn.

The Origin of The Herpes Virus

A lot of factors are involved to guarantee a better understanding of the virus. To start with, one needs to grasp some information about its origin and history. To this effect, a research team conducted a study on the virus recently. And the results indicated that the virus might be from a more complex origin than expected. 

It was discovered that the two virus strains (HPV 1 and 2) have firm roots in Africa. It was, therefore, necessary to determine the time in history when the strains left the African continent.

Type 1 and type 2 herpes simplex virus had high similarity with the ones that infected apes in Africa many centuries ago. It is believed that the virus later evolved to infect humans.

The University of Milan and the IRCCS Medea collaborated for the study to become a success. You will find the published version in Molecular Biology and Evolution. Since the virus evolved with their hosts to infect humans, it was apparent that Africa was where the herpes virus type 1 and 2 originated. 

How The Slave Trade Promoted The Spread of The Virus

The mass migration of millions of Africans from the continent into the United States and other countries in Europe made the viral strains that infect many today to leave the continent centuries ago and spread to other parts of the world, including Asia and Europe.

With the aid of technology and archaeological discoveries, scientists have been able to estimate the pace at which these viral strains evolved and gradually infected millions of people worldwide. To date, the herpes simplex virus is among the topmost deadly viral diseases fast ravaging the human population and threatening to wipe it out of extinction if ignored.

Manuela Sironi, who is the study co-author of the research project, opined that the team leveraged some statistically precise methods that permit the dating of most viral origins and how they dispersed. He also said that from the conclusions derived in the study, it was discovered that the strains of the herpes simplex virus type 1 migrated from Africa about 5000 years ago. And the migration of the viral strains of the herpes type 2 didn’t occur until recently during the eighteenth century. 

From the data derived in the study, it was obvious that the existence of the slave trade and mass migration of many African citizens led to the widespread of the viral strains. That is why the prevalence of these viral strains is now higher in the Americas, followed by Africa and less dispersed in other regions of the world.

The fact remains that before the colonization of many African countries, these viral infections existed as minor strains and mostly affected animals and just a few humans. But the emergence of the slave trade into the Americas generated lots of unhealthy habits, unsafe practices, and the mass sexual exploitation that took place led to the aversion of these viral strains from animals to humans. They spread quickly due to unhygienic living conditions too, a condition that was predominant during the slave trade era and pre-colonization.

As these migrants landed in other countries, they were mostly exploited as slave workers and worked for their masters in factories, mills, and farmlands. Subject to an inadequate system of living and untold hardship, this further boosted the longevity of the virus and made it spread easier than before. During this time, humans were unaware of the existence of this deadly disease and its mode of operation. 

Not until many years later, during the era of great discoveries in technology and medicine, did scientists and medical experts conducted research that led to the development of these viral strains.

Although various studies have been conducted on viral existence in humans, lack of adequate archaeological information, history data, made it almost impossible to reach valid conclusions. But, it was not until recently when these group of Italian researchers embarked on this study, that a shocking revelation was made public. 

What Does This All Mean?

It is now a known fact that the slave trade introduced several pathogens into the American continent, of which the herpes simplex virus 1 and 2 are just a few of them. Another pathogen worthy of mention is the Yellow Fever virus. But the majority of these pathogens remained confined to tropical areas for many centuries and only began to spread among humans when they perceived a fertile ground among the populace.

It is believed that further studies will help researchers to gain insight into the resistant nature of the herpes simplex virus type 1 and 2.

References: 

https://www.sciencetimes.com/articles/7606/20151101/who-more-3-7-billion-people-world-herpes.htm

https://academic.oup.com/mbe/advance-article-abstract/doi/10.1093/molbev/msaa001/5698714?redirectedFrom=fulltext

http://slaveryandremembrance.org/articles/article/?id=A0002

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