There are two different forms of the Herpes virus: Herpes Simplex Virus 1 (HSV1) and Herpes Simplex Virus 2 (HSV2). While there are similarities between the two, HSV2 is the most serious. It effects the genital areas of both men and women. Once a person is infected, the virus can have periods of flare ups, followed by periods of dormancy.
Herpes is a highly contagious disease. Unfortunately, it can also be asymptomatic - showing no outwards signs or symptoms - which allows a person carrying the herpes virus to unknowingly infect others.
While it is most commonly contracted via sexual contact, it can also be transmitted by shared needles or from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding. It can take years for HIV to begin displaying any signs or symptoms.
What Are the Causes of Herpes?
As mentioned above, there are 2 different forms of the herpes virus:
HSV1: This is the oral form of the virus. If symptoms occur, they're usually in the form of "cold sores" or "fever blisters" which erupt on the lips. They can also erupt on the inside of the mouth - on gums and the soft tissues of the inner cheeks/lips. While this form can be spread from person-to-person via kissing, or sharing beverages/food with an infected person, it can also be transmitted from the mouth of one person to the genitalia of another during oral sex.
HSV2: - This form affects the genitalia and/or rectum of an infected person. It is a fairly common disease, affecting about 1 of every 6 Americans. It is more common in women than men - with about 1 in every 5 American women carrying the virus. It is spread by sexual and/or skin-to-skin contact with an infected person. An individual does not have to have a visual outbreak to spread the disease - they can be silent carriers.
Herpes cannot live outside of the body for more than a few minutes, which makes it nearly impossible to contract from toilet seats, shared towels, or clothing.
The following symptoms are specifically related to the HSV2 form of genital herpes.
The majority of the population infected with herpes never has signs or visible outbreaks of the disease. Or, they may experience a mild outbreak and never realize they have an STD. If symptoms do manifest, they can include:
- Pain and/or itching in the genital area.
- Tiny red bumps or white blisters may appear in the genital area. These blisters can rupture, forming raw painful ulcers. They will eventually scab over and heal.
- Painful urination while experiencing a flare up.
- Flu-like symptoms: fever, fatigue, achy muscles/joints
Women: Women tend to have outbreaks in the vaginal area, cervix, rectum, outer genitalia, and buttocks.
Men:Men can experience outbreaks on the penis, inside the urethra (the tube urine uses to travel through the penis), scrotum, anus, buttocks and thighs.
Factors that contribute to an outbreak:
It is imperative to be tested for herpes regularly if you are having sex with multiple partners and/or unprotected sex. Always use a condom to maximize protection from STDs. If blisters or sores are present, avoid sexual activities altogether.
Treatment for Herpes
When an outbreak occurs, an antiviral medication can be taken to reduce the symptoms, lessen the severity of an outbreak, and shorten the time period from start to finish. Antiviral medications include:
- Aciclovir (Zovirax)
- Valaciclovir (Valtrex)
- Famciclovir (Famvir)
Sometimes a doctor will prescribe an antiviral to be taken daily to prevent flare ups altogether. The best treatment is to maintain a healthy immune system and prevent flare ups as much as possible. Eating well, getting enough rest, and nurturing the body can go a long way towards keeping dormant viruses at bay.
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