Herpes is a sexually transmitted disease caused by the herpes simplex 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex 2 (HSV-2) viruses. HSV-1, the main cause of the oral variety, shows symptoms in skin tissue in and around the mouth, and symptoms of HSV-2 appear in the genital region. Both forms of the virus are very contagious . It is estimated that at least 50% of the population has been exposed to it before reaching adulthood.
The virus is transmitted though contact with an infected person, though not necessarily through direct sexual contact. Any skin to skin or oral contact can transmit it. People who are infected should avoid touching their own skin lesions so that they do not spread the infection, and they should avoid skin-to-skin and sexual contact from the time when herpes simplex 1 symptoms appear until they have completely disappeared.
Condoms are effective in preventing transmission of the herpes simplex 2 virus only if all of the skin containing herpes-related sores is covered by the condom. This is difficult since lesions in the genital area are not limited to the shaft of the penis covered by a condom. Abstaining from sex during a herpes virus outbreak is the only way to ensure not passing the disease to a sexual partner.
Symptoms of herpes simplex 1 vary from person to person, depending upon the locations and severity of the infection. Early and less severe symptoms of oral herpes mimic those of the flu and can include fever and headache, and depression or irritability, and inflammation of the lymph nodes. If the outbreak proceeds beyond causing the infected person to simply feel ill, blister-like sores, or cold sores, will appear on the skin around the mouth. Through the cycle of symptoms, the blisters will burst, forming wet sores on the skin. The sores will then dry up as they heal, usually with no scarring, as the outbreak comes to a close.
Symptoms of herpes simplex 2, or genital herpes, appear in and around the genitals, the urethra and the anus of infected persons. One reason why this type of herpes is so easily transmitted is that symptomatic sores can be located deep inside the vagina or in the urethra, and so not visible. Similar to the cycle of oral herpes, small individual blisters or groups of blisters will form in the genital area. These can look and feel like a mild rash or can be very painful. The blisters will burst and heal in a cycle lasting usually no more than two weeks.
Although there is no cure for the herpes simplex virus, many treatment options exists to help people with herpes cope with the symptoms of an outbreak. Prescription antiviral medications can shorten the length of outbreaks or make them less frequent. Simplex 1 Herpes lesions can be Treated with topical pain medication sold over the counter. Anti-inflammatory and anti-fever medication can help with flu-like symptoms.
Since sores that are kept dry tend to heal more quickly, herpes simplex 2 lesions should be kept clean and dry. Infected persons may wish to dry infected areas well with a towel or cool hair dryer and wear loose-fitting, breathable clothing during an outbreak to speed healing.
Natural treatments for herpes include topical antiviral herbal ointments and supplementation of the nutrient lysine, which has been shown to be helpful in preventing shedding of the virus and shortening symptomatic outbreaks. The best defense against herpes outbreaks is a strong immune system built through a healthy lifestyle, including stress management, good nutrition, and adequate sleep.