Healthy Living

What is Herpes?

What is Herpes?

Herpes is a viral infection caused by the herpes simplex virus, which is of two types – herpes simplex type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex type 2 (HSV-2). HSV-1 causes blisters and sores in and around mouth, referred to as cold sores, oral herpes, or fever blisters. In HSV-2 infection, sores are formed around the genitals, and the condition is known as genital herpes. In some cases, sores may be found in other areas as well. Both HSV-1 and HSV-2 can cause the other type of herpes as well, though it is rare. The HSV-1 infection or a cold sore is the most common form of herpes, followed by genital herpes.

Herpes simplex viruses spread by direct contact with body fluid containing the virus from an infected person. HSV-1 infection spreads through sharing toothbrushes or plates while eating, and also through kissing. HSV-2, on the other hand, spreads through sexual contact with an infected person. In both cases, the virus spreads through secretions from the sores. It also passes from an infected mother to the child during delivery. These viruses follow a definitive cyclic pattern with an active phase, followed by a remission period. The sores and blisters appear during the active phase, while they disappear during the remission phase. These viruses remain in a latent phase in the sensory nerves after the infection. They may be activated into the active phase by certain triggers at a later stage.

Some of the symptoms of HSV-1 infection include itching, burning and tingling near the mouth. As the blisters form, the person may develop sore throat, fever and pain while swallowing. A number of blisters appear in the gums, lips and mouth. The blisters range from small blisters with a yellowish liquid inside to bigger, reddish lumps that leak.

Genital herpes or HSV-2 infection may remain asymptomatic for months together. You can identify HSV-2 infection by the presence of cracked, reddish areas around the genitals, which are generally painless. People infected by this virus may have a tingling or itching sensation near the genitals. In most cases, a dull pain develops while urinating, especially in women. Headaches and flu-like symptoms including swollen glands and fatigue are very common with genital herpes. After the initial infection, frequent outbreaks of sores happen until the body develops immunity against the virus.

Since the fluid from the blisters can easily cause the virus to spread hence when the sores are open and wet, herpes is most contagious. But also when there are no sores and the skin is looking completely normal, the herpes can shed and to others the virus may spread. Sometimes some people get the infection from a person who never showed any symptoms hence this infection is very sneaky and it is difficult to know how you got the infection.

Difference between genital herpes and oral herpes

Lots of people are confused since there are two different kinds of HSV. But actually it is simple. If you get the herpes simplex virus around your genitals then it is genital herpes. If you get it in or around your mouths, lips or throat then it is oral herpes. Usually oral herpes is caused by HSV-1and genital herpes is caused by HSV-2. But both can infect either area.

Complete cures for herpes infections are not available. The symptoms of the infection can be assuaged to a certain extent with appropriate treatment. Treatment also helps to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to others. Antiviral medications are the most common medications given to control the situation.

Medications help to ease the symptoms and the chance of spreading also reduces. Over the time the outbreaks also become less frequent. Though the condition is painful but it is harmless. Perfectly healthy lives can be led by people with herpes with regard to relationships and sex.

Symptoms of herpes

You may not see or feel the symptoms or may be the symptoms could be very mild to even be noticed. Sometimes the condition is confused with other things such as flu, pimples and ingrown hairs. The symptoms of herpes come and go but the infection still remains which mean that the infection may spread. For life time, the herpes may stay in your body.

Symptoms of genital herpes

On your vagina, vulva, penis, cervix, anus or but, a group of painful or itchy blisters is the most common symptoms of genital herpes. Once the blister breaks then they turn into sores. The other symptoms are as follows:

  • If the urine touches the herpes sores then the person may feel burning sensation
  • Since the sores and swelling block the urethra the person may have trouble urinating
  • Itching and pain around the genitals
  • You might even have flu like symptoms if your genital herpes is caused by HSV-2. These symptoms are:
    • In the pelvic area, throat and under the arms there are swollen glands
    • Fever and chills
    • Headache
    • The person may feel tired and achy

When these symptoms show up then it is referred to as outbreak. Usually about 2 to 20 days after the infection the first outbreak occurs. But sometimes for the first outbreak to happen it may take years. For about 2 to 4 weeks the outbreak may lasts. The virus remains in the body even though the blisters may go away and again this virus may cause sores. Repeated outbreaks are common particularly this happens during the first year of the infection. Few hours or days before the outbreak show up some warning signs can be noticed such as burning, itching, tingling sensation. The first herpes outbreak is the worst one. Then later when the outbreaks repeat they become less painful and shorter. Some may even stop having them over a period of time. In people with weakened immune system such as those with HIV can have more painful and long lasting herpes symptoms.

Symptoms of oral herpes

Compared to genital herpes, this one is less painful. Sores develop around the mouth or on the lips. This is known as fever blisters or cold sores. Even one side the mouth you may get sores but this usually happens when the person gets herpes for the first time. Usually the cold sores go away on their own after a few weeks; however in weeks, months or years later they may again pop up. These can be annoying but in adults and kids they do not cause any harm but for newborn babies it can be dangerous.

 The severity of the symptoms can be reduced to a certain extent by simple home remedies:

  • Taking pain killers
  • Cleaning the sores with warm salt-water solution
  • Wearing comfortable, loose-fitting clothes
  • Applying ice-pack in the affected area and
  • Getting adequate rest

Herpes tests

Just by the way you look or feel you cannot predict whether you have herpes. The only way to know for sure is by getting yourself tested. If on or around your genitals you notice sores then as soon as possible get yourself checked by the doctor. Certain STDs such as syphilis may look like herpes but the treatment for it is not the same. Hence to find out exactly what it is you should find out whether herpes test is needed.

A sample of fluid will be taken gently by the doctor or nurse if there are blisters or sores. Or else you can talk to your doctor about blood test. But unless you do have symptoms herpes test is not recommended. The tests are usually painless and quick.


From sexual skin to skin contact with an affected person, genital herpes can spread. It could be anal, vaginal or oral sex. Hence not having any contact with another’s person’s mouth or genital is the best way to avoid herpes and other STDs. But at some point in their lives most people will have sex hence it is important to have safe sex by using protection while having sex such as dental dams and condom.

The risk of getting an STD will reduce. On any areas of the body that is not protected by condom can be invaded by herpes such as butt cheeks, upper thigh, scrotum or labia and you may not always get protection from herpes by using condom but the risk can be lowered. Herpes can spread more easily when you have sex with an affected person hence during a herpes outbreak do not have sex. But sometimes even when there are no sores or symptoms, herpes can spread hence even if everything looks alright it is important to wear dental dams and condoms.

  • Try not to freak out if you get herpes. In order to stop the spreading of herpes from you to your partner you can do the following:
  • During oral, anal and vaginal sex always use condoms and dental dams
  • About taking herpes medication talk with your doctor. Thus the chances of spread of herpes will reduce.
  • During a herpes outbreak do not have sex even with a condom. It is possible that certain places that the condom does not cover can have sores that will cause the virus to spread.
  • Until your sores have totally gone, and the scabs have healed and fallen off do not have sex