The herpes simplex virus, also known as HSV, is an infection that causes herpes to an individual. Herpes can appear in various parts of the body, but most commonly on the genitals or mouth.
A herpes infection does not always produce symptoms. It may only show up with mild symptoms, and because of this, up to 25 % of the people infected with the herpes infection are ignorant about their condition or may not recognize the symptoms.
This ignorance about the infection as well as the lack of symptoms increase the risk of individuals transmitting the virus to their sexual partners unknowingly.
The herpes simplex virus is a contagious virus that can be passed from person to person through contact. Children may contract HSV-1 from early contact with an infected adult, and then carry the virus with them for the rest of their lives.
There are 2 types of the herpes simplex virus, and they are:
- HSV-1 (oral herpes): this type can cause cold sores and fever blisters around the mouth and on the face.
- HSV-2: This type generally causes the genital herpes outbreaks.
Infection with HSV-1 can happen from general interactions such as:
- eating from the same utensils
- sharing lip balm
The virus is quick to spread when an infected person is experiencing an outbreak. Up to 95% of adults are seropositive for HSV-1, though they may never experience an outbreak. It is also possible to get genital herpes (HSV-2) from HSV-1 if someone who performed oral sex had cold sores during that time.
HSV-2 is usually contracted through forms of sexual contact with a person who has HSV-2. It is estimated that around 20% of sexually active adults in the United States are infected with HSV-2, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). HSV-2 infections are commonly spread through contact with a herpes sore, and the AAD further reports that most people get HSV-1 from an infected person who does not even have sores. Also, HSV-1 may lead to HSV-2 if the virus comes in contact with the genital area (oral-genital contact during oral sex).
Anyone can be infected with Herpes Simplex Virus, regardless of age. Thus, risk is based almost entirely on exposure to the virus.
In cases of sexually transmitted HSV-2, people are more at risk when they ignore safe sexual behavior or engage in one without the use of protection. Other risk factors for HSV-2 are:
- having a weak immune system
- having more than one sex partner
- engaging in sex at a younger age
- being female
- having another sexually transmitted infection (STI)
If a pregnant woman is having an outbreak of genital herpes at the time of childbirth, it can also expose the baby to both types of Herpes Simplex Virus, and may put them at risk for serious complications.
Once people become infected with HSV, they will have the virus for the rest of their lives. Even if it does not show the symptoms, the virus will continue to inhabit in an infected person’s nerve cells. Even if the virus stays dormant, certain factors can trigger an outbreak. Such factors include:
- menstrual periods
- fever or illness
- sun exposure or sunburn
It is believed that outbreaks may become less intense over time because the body may have gotten a taste of the virus and will start creating antibodies by then. Generally, if a healthy individual is infected with the virus, there are usually no complications.
It is worth noting that someone may not have visible sores or symptoms but still be infected by the virus, and may transmit the virus to others.
Some of the symptoms associated with this virus include:
- blistering sores (in the mouth or on the genital regions)
- pain during urination for genital herpes
- itching of the affected part
- swollen lymph nodes
- loss of appetite
The Herpes Simplex Virus can also spread to the eyes, causing a condition known as herpes keratitis, which can cause symptoms such as eye pain and discharge, with a gritty feeling in the eye.
Women can also experience pain in urinating, and funny smelling discharge if herpes blisters are present inside the vagina. Some cases will see women who contract genital herpes to suffer from cervicitis (inflammation of the cervix), urethritis (inflammation of the urethra) or meningitis (inflammation of the fluid surrounding the brain).
Prescription antiviral medication is usually needed to provide relief for the pain and discomfort as well as to accelerate the healing of the ulcers and sores.
Medications can assist infected individuals and reduce the risk of spreading the virus to others. Good medications also help to lower the intensity and frequency of outbreaks that will be recorded by the individual. These medications are available in oral (pill) form, or may be applied as a cream, and may also be administered by injection for severe outbreaks.
If you are experiencing an outbreak of Herpes Simplex Virus type-1, some preventative steps to take include:
- Try and avoid direct physical contact with other people.
- Don’t share any items such as cups, towel etc that can pass the virus around.
- Don’t engage in oral sex, kissing, or any other type of sexual activity during an outbreak.
- Regularly and thoroughly Wash your hands thoroughly and apply medication with cotton swabs to reduce contact with sores.
If an individual is not experiencing symptoms of HSV but has been diagnosed with the virus, the use of a condom is advised. But even at that, the virus can still be passed to a partner from uncovered skin. Pregnant and infected women may have to take medicine to prevent the virus from infecting their unborn babies.
Recurrent Outbreak of HSV
It is widely believed that recurrent outbreaks can be triggered by the following:A weaken immune system
- Bodily injury
- Illness or infections
- Surgical trauma
- Emotional or physical stress
- Unhealthy diet
- Poor lifestyle habits
- Prolonged exposure to sunlight or ultraviolet light
Women are also more at risk to experience more recurrent outbreaks due to additional factors such as menstrual cycle and pregnancy, than men.
Further guidelines that one can follow to manage and promote the healing of active herpes simplex infection are by:
- Keeping the infected area dry and clean.
- Avoiding contact with the sores
- Drinking more water to prevent dehydration and to help flush out bad toxins
- Wearing simple cotton underwear and loose fitting garments to prevent much contact of the clothing with the sores.
A study has found out that Lysine can help block arginine, an amino acid in the body that is linked with herpes outbreaks. So having a diet high in lysine and low in arginine can help slow down the reproduction of the herpes virus and reduce the recurrences of outbreaks. Good food sources that are rich in lysine include fish, chicken, vegetables and beans. Avoid foods that are high in arginine because they can promote the recurrence of outbreaks.
In another laboratory tests, zinc has been shown to be effective in boosting the body immune system against viral infections such as HSV-1 and HSV-2.
In addition to optimizing the body’s resistance, zinc also assists with the speedy healing of wounds and scars. Thus, go for foods that are high in zinc content such as dairy products, legumes and most sea foods.
Taking supplements or foods high in vitamin A and C can improve the immune system to fight any viral infection. In addition to good dietary diets, getting plenty of sleep and enough rest, coupled with relieving stress through mediation and breath exercise can help to decrease the frequency of herpes outbreaks.
In conclusion, here are some facts about the herpes:
- People who have genital herpes can normally have sex, but should avoid sexual contact with their partner once the symptoms surfaces. Wearing a condom can also help to prevent passing the infection on.
- More than 50% of the population of the United States have HSV-1
- Around 15.5% of people in the U.S. aged between 14 – 49 years have type 2 Herpes simplex virus HSV-2
- Receiving oral sex from somebody who has cold sores around their mouth significantly raises the risk of becoming infected, or vice versa.
- You don’t get genital herpes from a toilet seat.
- People who are infected with genital herpes may be more susceptible to HIV.
- The intensity and severity of a herpes outbreak is at its worst and most painful during the first outbreak, with women usually experiencing more health complications than men during this time.