Introduction. In this review we consider some attributes which may be characteristic of herpesviruses and some properties which distinguish between them. As we shall show, the systematic interpretation of information we now have on a few herpesviruses presents us with some difficulties. For many members of the group we are spared this embarrassment only by the virtual absence of information beyond the initial recognition of the existence of the virus and the allocation of an arbitrary label. Thus, although more than 70 viruses may be listed as presumptive members of the group, criteria allowing their inclusion vary from a brief description of particle morphology (e.g. viruses observed in snake venom, oysters and fungi) to the extensive antigenic, structural, biochemical and genetic characterization of the virus [e.g. herpes simplex virus types 1 and 2 (HSV-1, HSV-2)]. Moreover, the number of separately identifiable viruses which are currently attributed to particular hosts probably reflects the degree of interest in the host species and its afflictions rather than any preferential distribution of viruses.


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