Herpes is an HSV (herpes simplex virus)-infection. The infection in other parts of the body affects the outer genitalia, anal region, mucosal surfaces and skin.
Herpes is a chronic condition. And, even though they carry the infection, many people never have symptoms.
Symptoms include blisters, ulcers, urinating pain, cold sores and discharge from the vagina. Although herpes have no cure, it can be treated with medicines and home remedies. In this article we explore herpes symptoms, how to treat herpes and how to prevent herpes.
Fast facts about herpes:
- There are two types of herpes simplex viruses: HSV-1 (herpes type 1, or oral herpes) and HSV-2 (herpes type 2, or genital herpes).
- More than 50 percent of people in the United States have HSV-1.
- Around 15.5 percent of people in the U.S. aged 14-49 have HSV-2.
- Receiving oral sex from somebody who has cold sores around their mouth significantly raises the risk of becoming infected.
- It is impossible to get genital herpes from a toilet seat.
Most people have not experienced symptoms for months or years after they have been infected. Those who have symptoms during the initial period will usually notice about 4 days after exposure (average range is 2-12 days).
A lot of people with HSV have recurring herpes. When a person is infected for the first time, recurrences tend to occur more frequently. Over time, however, the remission periods are longer and each occurrence tends to be less severe.
Primary infection symptoms
Primary infection is a term used for the outbreak of genital herpes that occurs when a person is infected for the first time.
- blisters and ulceration on external genitalia, in the vagina, or on the cervix
- vaginal discharge
- pain and itching
- tender, enlarged lymph nodes
- pain when urinating
- high temperature (fever)
- malaise (feeling unwell)
- cold sores around the mouth
- red blisters on the skin
In most cases, the ulcers will heal, and the individual will have no lasting scars.
Recurrent infection symptoms
Symptoms that occur in a chronic infection appear to be less severe and do not last as long as they present in the primary stage of infection. Typically, symptoms will not last more than 10 days and include:
- burning or tingling around genitals before blisters appear
- women may have blisters and ulceration on the cervix
- cold sores around the mouth
- red blisters
Eventually, recurrences happen less often and are much less severe.
If HSV is present on the surface of the contaminated person’s skin, it can easily be passed on to someone else through the moist skin that covers the mouth, anus, and genitals. The virus may also spread to another individual through other areas of the skin as well as through the eyes.
Humans can not be infected with HSV by touching an object, a work surface, a washbasin or a towel that has been touched by an infected person. Infection may occur in the following ways:
- having unprotected vaginal or anal sex
- having oral sex with a person who gets cold sores
- sharing sex toys
- having genital contact with an infected person
The infection is most likely to be transmitted just before the blister occurs, when it is visible, and until the blister is completely healed. HSV can still be transferred to another individual when there are no symptoms of an epidemic, although it is less likely to occur.
If a mother with genital herpes has sores while giving birth, the infection may be passed on to the child.
There are a variety of treatment options. These include:
Several home remedies can help, including:
- taking painkillers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen
- bathing in lightly salted water helps relieve symptoms
- soaking in a warm sitz bath
- applying petroleum jelly to the affected area
- avoiding tight clothing around the affected area
- washing hands thoroughly, especially after touching the affected area
- refraining from sexual activity until symptoms have gone
- If urinating is painful, apply some cream or lotion to the urethra, for example, lidocaine
Many people think that using ice packs will help. Never apply ice directly to the skin, always wrap it first in a cloth or a towel.
No drugs can get rid of the herpes virus. Doctors that prescribe an antiviral, such as acyclovir, that prevents the virus from multiplying. Antiviral drugs will help the outbreak to clear up more quickly and will also help to reduce the severity of symptoms.
Doctors usually prescribe antivirals for the first time a person has symptoms. Because repeated outbreaks are usually mild, care is not usually needed.
Episodic treatment and suppressive treatment
By general, episodic therapy is for those who have less than six recurrences by one year. Doctors can prescribe a 5-day course of antiviral therapy each time symptoms appear.
Doctors prescribe suppression therapy if a person experiences more than six recurrences a year. In some cases, my doctor recommends that the individual take antiviral therapy indefinitely every day. The goal here is to avoid further recurrence. While suppression therapy dramatically reduces the risk of transmitting HSV to a partner, there is still a risk.
To reduce the risk of developing or passing on genital herpes:
- use condoms when having sex
- do not have sex while symptoms are present (genital, anal, or skin-to-skin)
- do not kiss when there is a cold sore around the mouth
- do not have many sexual partners
Many people find that tiredness, stress, sickness, skin irritation, or sunbathing may cause symptoms to recur. Identifying and avoiding these triggers can help to reduce the number of recurrences.