Herpes

Herpes symptoms, treatment and prevention information

Herpes is a disease caused by the herpes simplex virus, of which there are two strains: herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2). Oral herpes, most commonly presenting as cold sores or fever blisters along the lips, is usually caused by HSV-1, while genital herpes, a sexually transmitted disease, most often results from HSV-2. However, both viruses can cause both forms of herpes.

Once contracted, the herpes virus remains in a person's system forever, though it cycles through periods of activity and dormancy. Outbreaks can occur any time, but tend to happen especially during times of stress or illness, when the body's defenses are weakened.

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What Do Herpes Look Like?

Herpes outbreaks, both oral and genital, are characterized by the appearance of small blisters (vesicles) or sores (papules). In the case of genital herpes, these tend to appear in clusters on the outside of the genitalia. Herpes sores may or may not be fluid-filled, but tend to be fairly small with defined borders. Genital herpes sores resemble the cold sores characteristic of oral herpes outbreaks.

How Do You Get Herpes?

Both HSV-1 and HSV-2 are transmitted through personal contact. It is important to remember that sores need not be present for a person to be infectious. Also, while barrier methods of protection can reduce the risk of herpes transmission, they do not eliminate it.

Herpes is an especially common STD because it can be present without any outward signs, and it can be spread through skin-to-skin contact as well as bodily fluids. Though the risk of infection may be higher during an outbreak, herpes can be spread even when the virus is dormant.

Herpes Symptoms

For the most part, herpes is asymptomatic, except during the active phase when sores erupt. In some cases, tingling or itching may precede or coincide with the presence of sores. The first outbreak may also be accompanied by flu-like symptoms, namely mild fever and swollen glands.

Sores usually heal within 5 to 25 days, and outbreaks tend to decrease in frequency and severity over time. That being said, some people can be infected for years without an outbreak, or an outbreak might be so mild as to go unnoticed or be mistaken for another skin condition.

Herpes Treatment

There is no cure for either herpes virus; once you have herpes, you will always have herpes. There are, however, several methods for controlling and shortening outbreaks. Perhaps the best method is to strengthen the immune system through proper diet and exercise, as well as using alternative remedies and dietary supplements. Oral and topical medications are also available.

Herpes Complications

While most herpes sufferers can lead normal, healthy lives, some immune-compromised individuals, such as transplant or AIDS patients, may suffer complications. These are rarely life-threatening in themselves, but can be painful and may interfere with treatment of the underlying condition.

Some HSV-1 infections are also more serious, affecting the eyes or the central nervous system, and HSV-1 has been linked to the later development of Alzheimer's disease in some genetically predisposed people.

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