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Can contact with textiles spread herpes simplex?

Hohenstein Institute investigates textiles as infection pathway

Herpes cold sores are as despised as they are common. The ailment is one of the most prevalent skin diseases in Germany.

According to the latest research at Hohenstein's Institute for Hygiene and Biotechnology (IHB), it seems likely that contaminated textiles may be another pathway for the spread of herpes pathogens in addition to the well-known means, including contact with saliva and by touching surfaces after scratching open herpes sores around the mouth.

With the help of molecular biological analysis, scientists at the Hohenstein Institute have successfully demonstrated that the herpes-simplex virus (HSV-1, see Figure 1) adheres strongly to textile fibres. The results clearly indicate that spread of infection may also be possible via, for example, hand towels, serviettes, and dish and cleaning cloths which a herpes sufferer previously used.

During the adhesion experiment at the IHB, a suspension of HSV-1 particles was used to contaminate small swatches of textiles directly. The results indicated that the herpes virus was still present on the textile after 48 hours at room temperature. Based on studies showing that the herpes simplex virus remains persistent on hard surfaces for eight weeks (Mahl and Sadler, 1975), one can suspect that infectious particles were also likely present on the textile.

The virus's DNA could still be found on the swatches even after laundering at 40°C in a conventional household washing machine using household detergents. This underscores the high level of adhesion of the herpes virus to textile fibres, regardless of whether these are infectious particles or not. But after laundering herpes infection via textiles remains improbable because the envelope of the virus, which plays a significant role in transmission, is very delicate. Nevertheless, based on these initial results, the danger of infection cannot conclusively be ruled out.

At the Hohenstein Institute's IHB, now established molecular biological techniques are used to detect the herpes's pathogen due to a specific enzyme reaction to its nucleic acids (DNA). Two steps are required in this process. First, heat is used break up the viral envelope to obtain access to the nucleic acids and extract DNA from the temperature-sensitive HSV-1 particles. Then, a pre-defined section of the DNA is selectively amplified using what is known as a polymerase chain reaction (PCR). The section of viral DNA can then be detected according to its pre-defined length.

The scientists at the Institute for Hygiene and Biotechnology aim to apply the molecular biological techniques that have been developed not only for research on viruses, but for consumer-orientated services in future. Official authorities in Tuebingen have issued the required permit for genetic engineering research at safety level 1.

This new research discipline at the Hohenstein Institute makes possible, for example, a comprehensive screening of the adhesion of different viruses to textiles in order to gain more precise insight into the potential for their spread via textiles, including garments and other textile products. In future, the knowledge gained through microbiological research can be used in the development of new materials that are resistant to viral adhesion which will prevent the spread viruses that have a pathogenic effect on humans or animals.

Rose-Marie Riedl | idw
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