Herpes (commonly called herpes simplex) is a viral infection that attacks skin cells, usually in the mouth or genital area, resulting in blistering and soreness. In advanced cases, the virus can infiltrate the nervous system and cause brain damage. Herpes is a chronic virus, and sufferers may experience outbreaks of the disease throughout their entire lives.
There are two strains of the herpes simplex virus. HSV-1 (herpes simplex virus 1) causes cold sores on the lips and cornea of the eye while HSV-2 (herpes simplex virus 2) usually causes blisters and sores on the genital areas. However the distinction is not always absolute since HSV-1 may sometimes cause genital infections,for example through oral sex. The infection can also occur in other sections of the body like the gastrointestinal tract and the brain. The disease may also spread widely in the body, especially in people with weak immune system (such as HIV patients) or newborns.
Herpes simplex virus is highly contagious and can easily be spread by coming into direct contact with sores. Even contact with people who are infected but have no sores can also lead to infection. It cannot be transmitted through touching objects like toilet seats, contrary to common belief. There has to be skin to skin contact. The disease is commonly transmitted through oral or normal sex, kissing and general contact with the genital area of infected people.
Oral herpes or cold sores are extremely common. They are caused by the herpes simplex virus 1(HSV-1) and the virus normally flares up when the carrier is ill and their immune system is weakened. Normally the virus is in a latent (dormant) state in the carrier’s body. The danger with this condition is that you may think that the sores are the result of the common flu and the virus may remain untreated and spread easily.
The most recognizable symptom of oral herpes is a cold sore on the mouth which then multiplies and spreads quickly.Before the sores appear you may experience itching and discomfort in the area. You may also have a fever, headache or body ache. Then fluid filled blisters may form and break open, leaving behind the sores which then form a scab. This scab may fall after about two weeks and the flare-up ends. Sometimes the redness and tingling may occur without being accompanied by blisters.
This is a terrible condition caused by the herpes simplex 2 virus. It has very uncomfortable and unpleasant symptoms, which means many people are embarrassed and wait too late before getting medical help.
The first symptoms include discomfort, aching or itching in the groin areas. After this come the sores on the genital areas and the rectum. The sores will usually be preceded by painful blisters in the thighs buttocks or anus,and these sores are similar to those of oral herpes. Sometimes you may only notice red bump that feel slightly sore, but mostly these will be extremely itchy and will also accompanied by a burning painful sensation. Women may also develop blisters on the vulva and will experience pain when urinating .They will also notice a vaginal discharge.
Doctors are usually able to recognize HSV infections quite easily. In case it is not clear, the doctor will normally use a swab to collect some samples of material from the sore and send it to the lab. The swab is then used to grow a culture which is used to identify the virus. The doctor may also use a microscope to examine some material scraped from the blister. Even though the virus is not visible, these scrapings may have giant infected cells that are symptomatic of infection by a herpes virus.
There are certain blood tests which are done to identify herpes antibodies in the body. The doctor may also carry other blood tests to determine if you have a HSV-1 or HSV-2 infection.Where the doctor suspects you have a brain infection, magnetic resonance imaging may be done. A spinal tap can be used to obtain a sample of your cerebrospinal fluid for testing.
Herpes has no known cure. Fortunately, the sores usually clear without any treatment. An antiviral ointment or cream can alleviate the itching, tingling or burning. There are also pills or injections that can control a herpes outbreak. Several prescription antiviral medications like Famciclovir or Acyclovir have been approved for the treatment of the two types of herpes simplex. These are used to combat the frequency and severity of outbreaks of the disease. They also prevent those who are infected from spreading the virus.
Since a herpes infection is highly contagious, people with an infection of the lips should not engage in kissing when they experience the first tingling or when a blister appears until any sores have healed completely. They should also avoid sharing drinking glasses or even touching their lips. Infected people must also abstain from oral sex.
If you have genital herpes, you should use a condom always. Even if you have no blisters or other symptoms, the virus may exist on the genitals, and this can spread to your sex partner. It is also important to wash your face and hands as often as you can. Avoid sharing items such as cigarettes or razors and always drink using a clean cup or glass.
People with herpes should avoid certain foods or activities that are known to trigger flare-ups. For example if you have an oral herpes simplex infection, minimize exposure to sunlight as much as you can. Currently, there are vaccines to prevent herpes infections that are under development.