The Herpes Simplex Virus
posted by Maria Oneida, MD | May 6, 2019
HSV-1 is also called oral herpes. It causes fever blisters and cold sores around the mouth and lips. Sometimes sores also affect the genitals.
HSV-1 is spread by oral contact. This includes kissing and sharing drinking glasses or eating utensils.
HSV-2 causes most cases of genital herpes in which sores develop around the genitals and rectum. This type of herpes is spread by sexual contact. It can also be transmitted from mother to baby during childbirth.
With this disease, symptoms worsen and then get better. Within a few weeks or months, they often return. Sores are the main sign of herpes. These sores can sometimes be very painful, and you may also have tingling and burning feelings in the legs or buttocks before blisters appear.
Usually, the first outbreak is the most painful, and they are often triggered by external factors including hormones, general illness, surgical procedures, sun exposure, fever and stress. You may also have trouble urinating or genital discharge. Fortunately, symptoms tend to become less severe over time and outbreaks may occur less often.
Many people do not experience symptoms, however, so they may not even be aware that they are infected.
The herpes virus can spread even when sores are not present. If you have oral herpes, avoid oral contact with others. For example, do not share objects that have had contact with your saliva and abstain from oral sex. Condoms provide some protection from genital herpes. However, sores can occur in areas outside condom coverage. This can cause transmission even with condom use.
Men who are circumcised are less likely to contract genital herpes. They are also at lower risk for HPV and HIV.
If you are pregnant, tell your doctor if you have herpes. If you aren’t sure, ask for a herpes test so steps can be taken to prevent the virus from affecting your unborn baby.
There is currently no cure for herpes, but treatment can alleviate symptoms. If you do experience symptoms, get treatment right away. Treating the first outbreak can dramatically limit the frequency and severity of future outbreaks.
Certain medications can also limit the number of outbreaks, help them heal more quickly, and decrease pain and discomfort. Your doctor may prescribe Valtrex, Zovirax or Famvir.
Without treatment, complications can occur. For example, people who have HSV-2 are at increased risk of contracting the HIV virus. Those who have compromised immune systems can develop secondary infections.
Vaccines for herpes are in development, but they are not yet available to the public. One federal research team is working on a shot to prevent the virus. Another is working on a shot to help those who already have herpes.
Talk with your doctor if you have herpes. He or she can develop a treatment plan to help you manage uncomfortable symptoms.
“Herpes Can Happen to Anyone.” NIH News in Health. https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2018/06/herpes-can-happen-anyone.
“Herpes Simplex Virus.” World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/herpes-simplex-virus.
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.