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Human herpes virus 8 (HHV8)

HHV8 infection is not very common in North America. It occurs more often in some Mediterranean countries and is widespread in Africa.

HHV8 is related to other herpes viruses that cause cold sores, mononucleosis and chicken pox. Although HHV8 remains in the body after infection, the immune system usually keeps the virus under control. Most people with HHV8 infection don’t have symptoms.

HHV8 and cancer

Infection with HHV8 is a risk factor for Kaposi sarcoma (KS). For this reason, it is also called Kaposi sarcoma herpes virus (KSHV). It has also been linked to some other rare cancers, such as primary effusion lymphoma. An HHV8 infection does not always lead to KS.

How is HHV8 spread?

HHV8 is spread mainly through saliva, but it may also be spread through blood and sexual contact. HHV8 does not appear to cause disease in most healthy people. People who develop KS usually have other health problems that weaken their immune system, such as AIDS, or they take types of drugs that weaken their immune system.

How to test for HHV8?

Laboratory tests can be done to check for antibodies to HHV8, but they are not currently recommended or readily available. KS tumours can also be tested for HHV8.

How to reduce your risk

Right now, there’s no vaccine that prevents HHV8 infection. To help reduce the risk of HHV8 infection, practise safer sex if you are sexually active. Use a condom to help protect against HHV8 and HIV, as well as other sexually transmitted infections.

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