Herpes Simplex

Herpes is a viral infection that can affect the mouth, genitals, or anus. It causes sores to appear, and can recur many times. In %country%, herpes is common.

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The herpes simplex virus, or HSV, causes the disease known as herpes. There are two types of the virus, known as HSV-1 and HSV-2. It was previously believed that the different types of viruses caused infections in different parts of the body, but this is no longer thought to be the case. In %country%, both HSV-1 and HSV-2 have been found to cause both oral and genital herpes.

Symptoms

HSV infects mucous membranes, which are the thin, moist, pink linings of areas such as the vagina, penis, mouth, and anus. The virus is transmitted through direct contact with infected areas, and can be passed on shared items such as drinking glasses or utensils. Vaginal, anal, or oral sex can transmit HSV.

The initial, or primary, infection consists of a number of small blisters that form in the infected area. In the mouth, they’re often called “cold sores,” but they can also form on the genitals. There is usually a burning sensation in the affected area. The blisters pop and turn into ulcers after about two weeks; they crust over, and then slowly heal.

The virus enters the sensory nerves during the primary infection. It’s able to “hide out” in the nerve cells, protected from the immune system. From time to time, the virus can reactivate, causing similar symptoms to appear again in the infected area. This is more likely to occur during periods when the host’s immune system is somewhat suppressed, such as when they have another infection or during periods of stress. 50 to 80% of those who have a primary outbreak will experience at least one recurrence, with the frequency of recurrence varying widely between individuals.

Mothers with genital herpes can pass the infection on to their children during birth. This can cause severe brain damage and even death in the newborn, whose immature immune system cannot fight off the virus. Because of this, many physicians recommend cesarean sections to mothers with genital herpes.

Treatment

No treatment can rid the body of HSV completely. However, there are antiviral medications which can shorten the duration and severity of an outbreak. These are taken orally or topically as soon as an outbreak begins. If outbreaks are frequent, then oral antiviral medication can be taken daily to suppress the outbreaks; this can have side effects, so it’s only recommended for those who have very frequent recurrences of herpes.

Prevention

Because genital herpes is acquired through direct contact with infected areas, condoms are not completely able to prevent the disease. Any area not covered by the condom may still transmit herpes. However, condoms can help to decrease the risk of transmission. Oral herpes can also be transmitted by kissing or by sharing utensils; avoid sharing items with anyone who has a cold sore and anyone you don’t know well.

Herpes can only be transmitted during a recurrence; however, the risk of transmission lasts for a few days before and after symptoms are apparent. Around 80% of those infected with HSV are unaware of their infection. This makes prevention difficult, and may explain why herpes is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections in %country%. Suppressive therapy is sometimes used in those with HSV to decrease the risk of transmission to a sexual partner; this decreases but does not eliminate the possibility that the partner will become infected.