Discovered in 1994, HHV-8 has been found to contribute to the development of Kaposi's sarcoma, a form of cancer. This has been found in AIDS patients but also in non-AIDS related Kaposi's sarcoma lesions. Although not totally understood, HHV-8 has also been implicated in other diseases including B-cell lymphomas and multicentric Castleman’s disease.
Interestingly, HHV-8 is not evenly distributed globally. Mediterranean countries like Italy, Greece, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, have higher rates of the more classic Kaposi's sarcoma than in North America and Northern Europe and higher HHV-8 infections. In parts of Africa, HHV-8 has infected over half the adult population. It is also not known why Kaposi's sarcoma are found predominately in males.
Healthy people may show no signs or symptoms to the virus. After infection, the virus enters into lymphocytes where it lies in a latent state. The infection is a concern for those who are immunosuppressed, AIDS patients, cancer patients receiving chemotherapy, and organ transplant patients.
Kaposi's sarcoma is usually a localized tumor. The tumors appear as bluish-red or purple sores on the skin.
Serologic assays and rapid blood cultures for KSHV/ HHV-8 antibodies are now available to test for the presence of the virus.
The methods in which the virus is contracted are not well understood. Although the predominant route of HHV-8 transmission is sexual, in areas, such as Africa, where HHV-8 infection is high during infancy, childhood and adolescence, viral transmission might occur through nonsexual contact.
Sexual transmission of HHV-8 might play an important role among high-risk group populations, such as gay and bi-sexual men in Western countries. Men, in general, are more susceptible to infection.
Persons infected with KSHV can asymptomatically shed the virus. It is advised to practice safe sex with infected individuals and curtail activities where saliva might be shared during sexual activity.
An additional route is via blood contact among injection drug users.
Treatment is experimental at this time, but anti-viral drugs or beta interferon may be tried.
A localized Kaposi's sarcoma tumor can be treated surgically or with local radiation. Chemotherapy and antiviral drugs are used against the development of tumors. Patients with AIDS who receive highly active antiretroviral therapy may have up to 90% less occurrences in Kaposi's sarcoma.