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Herpes Virus

The waters of southeast Alaska have something to offer to sufferers of herpes viruses: two species of seaweeds of the Rhodophyta (red algae) group that grow along the coast have been found to relieve symptoms of herpes infections.

Herpes viruses cause a variety of diseases that range from cold sores to the more-serious genital herpes which can produce painful blisters. It can cause death to infants and perhaps cancer in women. The virus that causes cold sores is named herpes simplex virus Type 1. Herpes simplex virus Type 2 causes genital herpes.

These viruses attack skin or mucous membrane cells where they become parasitic upon the normal processes in the cells. The infestation is difficult to attack with antiviral drugs because the drugs also attack the host cells. Genital herpes is transmitted sexually and is now considered to have reached epidemic status in the United States with 300,000 new cases being reported each year.

Newborn babies can contract the disease by passage through the birth canal of an infected mother. Death can result if the virus reaches a baby's brain. So far, there is no known cure for genital herpes virus. Once a person is infected, the condition is lifelong.

One encouraging development is that two Alaskan researchers, Natasha I. Calvin and Robert J. Ellis, of Juneau, have discovered that two species of seaweed relieve the symptoms of herpes virus. Dried and powdered, these red algae seaweeds reduce blistering when placed on the affected skin. The natural herbs, known as Alaskan Dulse, can be purchased in several Alaskan pharmacies. Some Alaskan physicians and dentists are reported to be recommending the herbs and may be able to suggest sources of supply.

The Alaska Council on Science and Technology now is funding scientists Calvin and Ellis in efforts to define the extent of the habitat of the red algae and to determine how much is available for harvest. The algae are thought to grow only along certain parts of the subtidal coastline of southeastern Alaska. One of the objectives of the research is to see if it might be possible to produce more of the algae through mariculture.