Herpes is a virus usually related to sexual activities and the most common sexually transmitted infection. However, it can also be transmitted by mere skin contact or shared hygienic kits. Nowadays, it has become common among young adults and beyond. It’s especially contagious to those that aren’t practicing safe intercourse and have poor hygiene practices. Herpes is caused by a virus called herpes simplex virus or simply HSV. It appears as reddish blisters that usually affects anal and genitalia regions and any area of the skin.
The herpes virus is categorized into two types, namely, HSV-1 and HSV-2. HSV-1 or sometimes referred to as oral herpes usually causes painful sores within the lip and mouth area (cold sores/fever blisters). In certain events, it can also affect areas around the genitalia. However, this kind of infection is commonly induced by HSV-2. It is sometimes called genitalia herpes because it primarily affects skin regions around the genitalia and anal. It may also be mistaken as HSV-1 but most of the time it will infect skin areas below the waist. It’s also important to bear in mind that the presence of blister isn’t necessary to cause painful sensation throughout the body.
In the US, above fifty percent of individuals is said to have HSV-1 infection. And an estimate of sixteen percent is infected by HSV-2, around ages of fourteen to fifty. Globally, it is believed that an approximate of seventy percent of individuals under the age of fifty years is infected by the virus. It doesn’t usually have serious health risks but the sores are painful and can have annoying impacts on the everyday life of a person. There are no known cures for herpes, however, through medication, it can be managed.
Also, there may be instances when the individual may have the virus but symptoms may not appear until it’s triggered. According to research, the herpes simplex virus evades the immune defense of the body by hiding in neuron cells. When the symptoms develop it will cause sores in the skin or mucous membranes of the nose, genitals, or mouth. The virus is spread through axons that lead to the skin. It’s also in the skin area where the virus replicates and cause new blisters. After the first outbreak, the infected person may have infrequent episodes of symptoms reoccurring.
The following factors are possible triggers to herpes simplex virus:
- General malaise
- High-pressure environments causing emotional and/or physical stress
- Menstrual cycle
- Immunosuppression due to medications
Today, extensive studies are being made on how to prevent and treat herpes simplex virus. The study includes the nature of herpes and medicinal research (potential vaccines and genome editing) as well. Research about herpes vaccines was conducted since the early 1900s however they’ve found no possible vaccine agents and on-going studies are still conducted today. In 2016, few vaccine candidates are presented and at present, it’s in various clinical trial phases. Researchers explained that an ideal HSV vaccine should enhance immune system defense to prevent the virus from occurring. In connection with this ideal, the vaccine is considered effective if it:
- reduces reoccurring episodes of symptom outbreaks,
- reduces symptoms severity,
- prevents infecting the ganglion (nerve cell clusters), and
- prevents viral shedding among infected individuals
Causes and Transmission
Herpes is commonly transmitted through sexual encounters. It includes kissing, intercourse, and oral sex. This virus is highly contagious that the individual doesn’t even have to secrete semen to transmit the disease.
It could also be transmitted through mere skin contact to the infected area. And for example, individuals shared towel, pillow, blanket, or toothbrush. If a person has open wounds or rashes, the virus could spread quickly upon contact with the infected skin area of the person.
In rare instances, a mother may also transmit the virus to her infant during labor. In any case, the mother should inform her doctor to avoid any potential risks.
Herpes may be highly contagious, however, scientists suggest that hugging, holding hands, or sitting on toilet seats may unlikely transmit the virus. They explained that the virus may die out a few minutes after exposure to the external environment.
Herpes symptoms may not occur immediately after the infection is transmitted. It may lay dormant in the ganglia for months or years and undetected by the body’s immune system until it’s triggered. After the first outbreak, the infected individual may experience irregular reoccurrences of symptoms.
The hallmark of herpes simplex virus is a watery and painful blister that may occur on any parts of the body, but especially on regions below the waist. One or more blisters may occur in the infected area. When it breaks open, it secretes a fluid that may form a crust around it as sore heals. However, breaking it open on purpose is prohibited because it may worsen the condition.
Also, the characteristics of the blisters may depend on what type it is:
- HSV-1 (or oral herpes) – This type of blister usually occurs within the lip and mouth area. In some events, it may also appear in any area of the face, body, and on the tongue.
- HSV-2 (or genital herpes) – usually occurs in the genitalia or rectum area. This type of herpes may even occur in the tissue linings of the vagina. Normally, it could happen below waistline but sometimes it may also occur on any parts of the body.
Itchiness or burning sensation
Itchy and searing rashes may occur days or weeks before the patches appear.
Difficulty in urinating
Individuals with genital herpes may experience a burning sensation while urinating.
The virus may reach the eyes and infect one or both. This may cause vision problems, light sensitivity, and eye pain. When eye infection occurs, communicate with your doctor immediately to prevent any severe damage to the eye.
Muscle pains, fever, and swollen parts of the body especially in the neck or genitalia region may occur.
As of now, there is no permanent cure for herpes; however, through treatment herpes symptoms can be managed. There are numerous ways to treat this virus. Your doctor may prescribe a certain medication, which may temporarily eliminate the patches and reduce the frequency of occurrences.
Your doctor may also advise you the following during outbreaks to lessen the pain sensation:
- Aspirin intake
- A warm bath
- Applying an ice pack on the patches
- Keeping the genitalia area free of moist
- Wear loose and comfortable clothes