, Volume 14, Issue 7, pp 753-762
Date: 10 Jan 2006

Herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV-1) infection in radiation-induced oral mucositis

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Goal of work

The aim of the study was to investigate the incidence of herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV-1) infection in mucositis during head and neck cancer radiotherapy.

Patients and methods

Sixty patients with malignant head and neck tumor, eligible to receive radiotherapy, who were referred to the Dental Oncology Unit, entered the study. Sixteen patients (26.6%) received concomitant chemotherapy. Mucositis was recorded weekly. Smears taken from the ulcers of mucositis grade 2, or 3, or 4 were stained with Papanicolaou and alkaline phosphatase/antialkaline phosphatase immunocytochemical method to identify HSV-1.

Main results

Forty-eight of all 60 patients developed ulcerative mucositis. Smear was available from 29 of 48 patients with ulcerations. HSV-1 infection was identified in 14 of 29 smears available (48.2%). Mucositis healed or was reduced after 1 week of antiviral treatment in 11 of those 14 HSV-1-positive patients; 3 patients responded to 1 g/day of valacyclovir, 7–2 g/day, and 1 patient responded to i.v. acyclovir. Ulcerations recurred after quitting antivirals. Three patients did not respond to 1 g/day of valacyclovir. No HSV-1-negative patient responded to acyclovir (P=0.000).


HSV-1 was isolated from 14 of 29 available smears taken from 48 patients with ulcerative mucositis. The incidence of HSV-1 infection during radiotherapy was estimated as being 14 of all 48 patients at risk (29.1%). Healing or reduction in the grade of mucositis after antivirals in HSV-1 positive patients, combined with the negative response to antivirals in HSV-1 negative patients, denoted that HSV-1 infection was a component of ulcerative radiation mucositis in those HSV-1-positive patients.