An infection that comes from the herpes simplex virus (HSV), herpes presents itself via mucosal surfaces, external genitalia, anal area, and skin within other regions of the body. Once you contract herpes, it is something you have for life; however, there are many individuals that never experience symptoms, despite the fact that they are carriers of the virus.
The condition falls into two categories: HSV-1 (herpes type 1, referred to as oral herpes) and HSV-2 (herpes type 2, referred to as genital herpes). Over half of Americans have HSV-1; while just over 15% of the population between the ages of 14-49 have HSV-2. While there is a certain stigma around the illness with many myths that circulate around how one can contract the condition, it’s important to note that it is impossible to get HSV-2 from sitting on a toilet seat.
However, there is a great deal of information that the public can educate themselves on around herpes and HSV. Below are some signs and symptoms, as well as tips on treatment, causes of the condition, and prevention.
Signs and Symptoms
Most herpes patients have reported no signs or symptoms around the virus for months or years after contracting it. Some who do notices signs of the virus will see them emerge at about four days after exposure and the general period of an outbreak is two to 12 days.
A lot of individuals who suffer with HSV will have recurring herpes flare ups; and those who are initially infected tend to experience recurrences more frequently. The good news is that as time wears on, these flare ups happen less, and are not as severe as the initial experience.
Primary Infection Signs and Symptoms
This relays signs and symptoms experienced when a person is first infected with herpes. They can feel quite severe and include:
- Ulcerations and blisters on the external area of genitalia, including the cervix and vagina
- Cold sores that emerged around the mouth
- Vaginal discharge
- Pain and itching around the genitalia area
- Pain during urination
- Enlarged and tender lymph nodes
- High fever
- Overall malaise
- Red blisters on the skin
The only silver lining in all of this is that most times blisters will heal, and a person who has herpes rarely experiences long-lasting scars.
Recurrent Infection Symptoms
The below outlines recurrent signs and symptoms that pop up. These tend to be less severe and don’t last too long, with about a 10-day time period.
- Tingling and burning around the genital area prior to sores appearing
- For females, they may have blisters/ulcerations on their cervix
- Cold sores on the mouth
Sadly, many who suffer from herpes state that fatigue, stress, friction on the skin, or sunbathing triggers their symptom outbreaks; meaning more recurrences and more pain. Knowing and avoiding triggers will not only help with decreasing outbreaks, but also passing the illness on to another.
While herpes and HSV is something an individual lives with their entire life, the condition is not fatal and there are a wide variety of treatment options to relieve the pain around signs and symptoms.
Some treatments that can be done in the comfort of your own home include:
- Simply taking over-the-counter medications to help with pain, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen
- Taking a bath in lightly salted water
- Running a warm sitz bath and soaking in it for a while
- Placing petroleum jelly to the area that is affected
- Refrain from tight clothing around the area that is affected
- Washing hands continuously, but more importantly, after touching the area that is infected
- Avoid any sexual activity while undergoing signs and symptoms of herpes
- Applying lotion or cream to the urethra, especially if urinating hurts
- Placing icepacks in the area that hurts. Please note, ice should never be applied directly to the skin, so ensure to wrap it in a towel or cloth before applying.
As noted above, there is nothing a person can do to get rid of herpes; however, doctors can prescribe an antiviral medication to stop the virus from multiplying and medication can also help clear up an outbreak faster and reduce the pain around signs and symptoms.
Antivirals are generally prescribed for anyone experiencing first-time symptoms. As time wears on and recurrent outbreaks become less painful, and less often, medication is generally not needed.
Episodic Treatment Vs. Suppressive Treatment
Episodic treatment occurs for those herpes patients who experience less than six recurrences within 12 months. A five-day antiviral medication will be rolled out every time an outbreak occurs.
For those who experience more than six recurrences each year, suppressive treatments are given where an individual will take an antiviral medication daily. This is to prevent more outbreaks, and suppressive treatments also decrease the chances of passing on HSV to anyone else; although it’s important to note that there is still that chance that you will infect a partner, despite this medication.
HSV is quite contagious and can be easily passed on when it presents itself on the skin’s surface of one that is infected. This is done via the moist skin lines of a person’s genitals, mouth, and anus. The virus can also spread to another individual through other areas in the body via the skin, not to mention one’s eyes.
All that said, it’s important to note that HSV CANNOT be spread by the surface of an object (i.e. a book, computer) or any other surface within a home or office, or other environment if it has been touched by someone with herpes. Infection can only spread via the following ways:
- Unprotected anal or vaginal sex
- Oral sex
- The sharing of sex toys
- Genital contact with a person who is infected
Herpes is most contagious just before a sore appears, when it does hit the surface, and until the ulceration/blister has disappeared. The virus is still contagious even when there are no signs or symptoms that are visible; however, the chances of contracting herpes during this time does lessen.
Another way an infected person can pass on herpes is when a pregnant mother has ulcerations/blisters during child birth; in this case, mom passes on herpes to her infant.
How can you decrease your chances of passing on this virus to others or contracting it yourself? Here are some prevention tips:
- Ensure you use condoms before having sexual intercourse
- Refrain from any sexual activity when signs and symptoms are present
- Refrain from kissing when a cold sore is present on the mouth
Avoiding the above will help to ensure that you don’t contract, or be the reason behind someone else developing, herpes and HSV.