Herpes, also known as the Herpes simplex virus (HSV), is a common infection that is known to cause painful blisters and ulcers. It is communicable in nature and spreads by skin-to-skin contact. It is treatable though, though, cannot be completely cured.
There are two types of herpes simplex virus.
Type 1 (HSV-1) gets usually communicated by oral contact and is known to cause infections around the mouth (oral herpes or cold sores). It can also lead to genital herpes. Adults are usually infected with HSV-1.
Type 2 (HSV-2) spreads by sexual contact and causes genital herpes.
The majority of people don’t even have no symptoms or only mild symptoms. The infection can also cause painful blisters that might also recur over time. Medicines can only cure the symptoms but won’t be able to cure the infection.
The symptoms of both genital and oral herpes that recur over time tend to be very inconvenient and distressing. Genital herpes has an associated social stigma and has an impact on sexual relationships. With time, however, the maximum number of people struggling with herpes get used to living with the infection and try to live a decent life.
The majority of people don’t even have no symptoms or only mild symptoms. People often are not even aware that they are carrying the infection within them and might pass the virus along to others without even knowing it.
Painful, recurring blisters or ulcers are some of the recurring symptoms of herpes. Symptoms like fever, body aches, and swollen lymph nodes become visible when newer infections occur.
The symptoms might usually be different during the outbreak of the first episode of the infection as compared to the recurrent episode. If you happen to notice an occurrence of the symptoms, it usually does with tingling, itching, or a burning sensation where the sore is going to appear.
The symptoms of common oral herpes include blisters (cold sores) or open sores (ulcers) in or around the mouth or lips. On the other hand, the symptoms of common genital herpes includebumps, blisters, or open sores (ulcers) around the genitals or anus. These sores and blisters are usually painful in nature and also might break open, ooze, and then crust over.
During the initial days of the infection, people might come across:
- Body aches
- Sore throat (oral herpes)
- Swollen lymph nodes near the infection.
People can have repeated outbreaks over time (‘recurrences’). These are usually shorter and less severe than the first outbreak.
Medicines are sometimes used to treat first or recurrent scenarios of herpes. They can help the longevity and severity of the occurrence of the symptoms, however, cannot be completely cured.
The treatment for the recurrent scenarios is getting an increased efficacy when started within 48 hours of the symptoms first beginning to appear.
Medicines used for antiviral purposed are usually prescribed. These medicines include acyclovir, famciclovir, and valacyclovir.
Consumption of lower doses daily of one of these medicines can also reduce the chances of the frequency of occurrence of the outbreaks.
Medical attention and treatment of the people who struggle with very painful and frequent recurrent scenarios or who wish to reduce the threat or risk of transmitting it to somebody else.
Painkillers and medicines are being used to seek relief from pain and painful sores including drugs like include paracetamol (acetaminophen), naproxen, or ibuprofen. There are also medicines that can be applied to numb the affected area including benzocaine and lidocaine
Herpes simplex virus resides inside the nerve cell and switches between being inactive and active.
Certain specific triggers that can activate the virus include:
- Sun exposure
- Menstrual period
- Emotional stress
Some people struggle with a special condition where herpes is activated by sunlight. Should that happen, try limiting your exposure to the sun and wearing sunscreen every time you have to go out to lower the probability of recurrences.
To reduce the symptoms of oral herpes, people can be advised to:
- Drink cold drinks or suck on popsicles
- Use over-the-counter pain medicines.
- For genital herpes, people can be advised to:
- Sit in a warm bath for 20 minutes (without soap)
- Wear loose-fitting clothes
- Use over-the-counter pain medicines.
There are ways to lower the risk of spreading herpes including:
Talk to your partner about having herpes
Don’t have sex if you have symptoms and always wear a condom (even when no sores)
Don’t share items that touched saliva (oral herpes).
Talk to your healthcare provider if you are pregnant, because there is a risk of passing herpes to your baby.
Scope Of the Problem
In the latest available data in 2016, around 3.7 billion people below the age of 50, or about 67% of the population worldwide, had HSV-1 infection (both oral and genital). In most cases of HSV-1, the chances are the infection has been acquired during childhood.
Genital herpes, triggered by HSV-2 affects an average population of 491 million or 13% of the people around the age between 15-49 years globally. Women are twice as likely to be infected by HSV-2 because the sexual transmission is twice as efficient from men to women. The prevalence however increases with age, although the highest number of new infections is among adolescents.
HSV-1 is primarily communicated when there is direct content with the virus in sores, saliva, or surfaces in or around the mouth. HSV-1 can also be transmitted to the genital area through oral-genital contact and lead to genital herpes. It can also be transmitted from oral or on the surfaces of the skin that appears normal. The greatest threat of transmission occurs when there is the presence of active sores. People who are already struggling with HSV-1 don’t have the chance of getting reinfection but are still under the threat of acquiring HSV-2.
The primary pathway for the transmission of HSV-2 is sex- through direct contact with genitals o anal surfaces, skin, sores, or body fluids of the person already struggling with the virus. The sneaky HSV-2 virus can also be transmitted when the skin looks normal and there are no visible or tangible symptoms.
Under the rarest of rare circumstances, herpes (HSV-1 AND HSV-2) might be transmitted from a mother to a child during the process of delivery, leading to neonatal herpes among the babies.
HSV-2 and HIV Infection
There is a heightened risk of acquiring the HIV infection if you are already struggling with HSV-2, at least by three times. Furthermore, patients both struggling with HIV and HSV-2 infection have higher chances of spreading the HIV infection among others. HSV-2 infection is some of the most common infections in people struggling with HIV.
Herpes is known to have more severe symptoms and more frequent recurrences among immunocompromised people, including those with advanced HIV infection. A rare complication of HSV-2 comprises meningoencephalitis (brain infection) and other associated disseminated infection. On the other hand, HSV-1 infection can also lead to severe complications including ailments like encephalitis (brain infection) or keratitis (eye infection).
Neonatal herpes can occur when the infant gets an exposure to the HSV virus during delivery. Neonatal herpes is rare and occurs in around 10 out of every 100000 births around the globe. However, it is a difficult condition that can leave a long-term neurological disability or even death. The threat of neonatal herpes is the highest when a mother acquires the HSV for the first time during the advanced stages of pregnancy.
People who have symptoms of oral herpes should steer clear from any oral contact with others, including oral sex, and sharing objects that get exposed to the saliva of the infected person. Individuals exhibiting the signs and symptoms of genital herpes should stay away from any sexual activity while the symptoms are still tangible. Both streams – HSV-1 and HSV-2 are the most contagious kinds when there are visible sores but can also be communicated when there are no tangible or visible symptoms.
For people who are the sexually active, proactive and correct use of condoms is one of the best ways to prevent genital herpes and others STDs. However, condoms only reduce the risk and the HSV infection can still occur when there is contact with genital or anal areas that remain uncovered by the condom. Medical circumcision among males can provide a life-long partial defense mechanism against the HSV-2 virus and infection, as well as against HIV and human papillomavirus (HPV).
People with tangible symptoms indicative of genital herpes should also be recommended HIV testing.
Pregnant women with tangible signs and symptoms of genital herpes should also bring that to their health providers. Preventing the transmission of HSV-2 infection is significantly important for women in the advanced stages of pregnancy when the risk of neonatal herpes is the greatest.