Healthy Living

What is Herpes?

What is Herpes?

Key Takeaways

  • Herpes is a viral infection.
  • There is no cure for herpes.
  • There are two different type of herpes: herpes simplex type 1 and herpes simplex type 2.

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.

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.

 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