Herpes 101: Understanding Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention


What is Herpes?

The herpes simplex virus causes this type of sexually transmitted infection. It exists in two strains – Herpes Simplex Type 1 and Herpes Simplex Type 2. Oral sex, vaginal sex or anal sex, are some of the major ways of transmitting the herpes simplex virus.

It is of two types: a) HSV-1, Oral herpes causes cold sores and blisters around the mouth and face) HSV-2 is responsible for genital herpes outbreaks. HSV Singles: HSV is not so uncommon disease. A study says that half of the population has HSV-1 and one out of every six people of age 14-49 has HSV-2.

The virus exhibits three phases: initial infection, followed by the latency phase where the infection remains dormant and exhibits no symptoms. The last phase is where you’d experience recurrent outbreaks.

Where does the herpes simplex virus reside in the body?

This virus is known to be latent in nature. After the virus has found its way into the body, it gets into nerve roots and affects the sensory nerve Ganglia. The Ganglia are similar to junctions where nerves from different parts of the body converge.

I have heard that genital herpes is very common. Is it true?

According to the data issued by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 50 million people in the United States are infected with this strand of the virus. According to studies, HSV is more common in women as well as people that have had more than 5 sex partners. However, it has been observed that most people that have herpes don’t know about it due to its asymptomatic nature. Due to this reason many people don’t realize that they’re infected until they undergo a serological exam.

I don’t have lesions. What does this mean?

Most people with herpes don’t have any lesions. Typical lesions are in the form of little blisters when then progress onto become cold sores (genital ulcers). Showing no symptoms doesn’t mean that you’re infected. People with an active sex life are advised to undergo a seismological exam every 6 months.

Can I spread genital herpes to people I am involved with?

Individuals that are infected with HSV 1 or HSV 2 can spread the virus to their partner during sex (anal, vaginal or oral). Typically, the chances of spreading the virus increase manifold when the person is experiencing an outbreak or has blisters or cold sores. However, transmission during the latency period (when the virus is dormant) is also possible. According to estimates, 1 out of 3 individuals with asymptomatic herpes transmit the virus.

How do I know that I’ve been infected with HSV?

The symptoms of herpes are non-specific and often very mild. In some cases, infected individuals may experience blisters or cold sores that are generally painful. Prior to the development of lesions, people might experience a burning sensation in the area. This can be accompanied by irritation and discomfort in the genitalia.

I had lesions but my culture tested negative for HSV. Does this mean I don’t have herpes?

The biggest problem with herpes diagnosis is the level of sensitivity. There are a couple of reasons why cultures turn out to be negative:

  1. The disease might be caused by a virus other than HSV.
  2. The samples haven’t been taken correctly or it has taken very long for the samples to reach the lab.

Can the herpes simplex virus be transmitted because of oral sex?

Yes. Also, the transmission can occur during an outbreak as well as in the asymptomatic phase. Oral sex is one of the biggest reasons behind the spread of HSV 1.

Is there any cure for herpes?

Medical sciences haven’t been able to find a cure for herpes. However, anti-viral drugs have proven to be highly effective in reducing the pain induced by symptoms of herpes. It can also reduce the number of outbreaks or viral replications in the body.

I experience outbreaks very often. Can treatment help?

Suppressive therapy is found to be extremely helpful for those who experience frequent outbreaks. An individual taking suppressive therapy takes small doses of anti-viral drugs on a daily basis. Studies have shown that suppressive therapies can reduce the number of outbreaks by about 90 per cent.

Do these medications have any side effects?

Medical sciences have shown these drugs to have minimal impact on the human body. There is no evidence of major complications brought about as a result of the consumption of these medicines.

Is it safe to consume these drugs during pregnancy?

Medical experts have found out that pregnant women can consume anti-viral drugs as they don’t have any influence on the fetus. The Centers for Disease Control conducted a study on over 800 women and infants and found out that consumption of medicines doesn’t lead to any medical complications nor did they cause any fetal abnormalities.

I have herpes. Can I get HIV too? Is there any relation between the two?

Two different viruses cause Herpes and HIV. If your immunity is compromised by HSV, your susceptibility to HIV infection increases if you are exposed to it. People who test positive for Herpes are advised to undergo screening for other sexually transmitted infections.

Patients who are infected with both the herpes simplex virus and the human immunodeficiency virus are known to have a higher viral load due to interactions between the two viruses.

When an individual’s immunity takes a hit from HIV, he is more likely to shed HSV symptomatically.

This is my first HSV outbreak. When did I get infected with the virus?

The first outbreak after contracting HSV can be days, months, or even years after the initial infection. The only way to determine whether or not this was your first outbreak is to get a serological test done. In addition, a serological test can only testify to the presence of the virus and cannot show the exact period when you’ve come in contact with it for the first time.

Does using a condom prevent transmission of the virus to my partner?

Condoms are known to be effective in preventing transmission of the virus in case of vaginal and anal sex. In case you’re into oral sex, you still run the risk of giving the virus to your partner.

What do I tell my partner?

If you are entering into a relationship, you bear the responsibility of informing your partner that you are infected. Conversely, if you are already in a relationship, you should request your partner to undergo testing and disclose any past physical encounters.

What kind of resistance is helpful?

Certain medications such as acyclovir, famciclovir, and valacyclovir are the best-known drugs that can provide relief from symptoms of herpes. While very little resistance is encountered, the response to treatment varies greatly from person to person. There are cases when a person might need additional drugs to suppress viral outbreaks.