Health

Herpes Simplex – Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

✅ Evidence Based Article

When you name the word herpes, people around you can be scared. This is because herpes simplex is a dreadful disease with adverse effects.

It’s one of the sexually transmitted infections that people want to avoid at all costs.

What is herpes simplex?

This is a viral disease caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV).  The HSV virus causes herpes that appear on the mouth and genitals.

There are two types; HSV-1 and HSV-2:

HSV-1 is responsible for oral herpes. Oral herpes affects the lips, mouth, and sometimes throat.

On the other hand, HSV-2 is responsible for genital herpes. Genital herpes affects the genital area and rectum. However, HSV-1 can cause genital herpes on rare occasions.

What Causes Herpes Simplex?

Herpes simplex occurs due to contact between with the HSV. It’s mainly passed from one person to another through the following methods;

  • Genital contact with an infected person. Genital contact alone can cause herpes simplex. Touching or rubbing around the genitals of an infected person leads to the transmission of herpes.
  • Unprotected sexual activity (vaginal and anal). This is the primary cause of herpes. Engaging in sex with a herpes-infected person can lead to herpes simplex. The genitals are a perfect target for HSV because they are soft and the virus can traverse easily. Unsafe sex is the number one cause of this disease.
  • Oral sex with an infected person (with cold sores). Oral sex leads to the transmission of HSV. The virus can move from the mouth to the genitalia and vice versa. A person with cold sores in the mouth and on the genitals can pass on the virus to the other person
  • Sharing sex toys with an infected person. The virus can stay on the surface of sex toys for a prolonged period. This virus can move from the infected toy user to the new user.
  • Deep kissing an infected person likely causes herpes. The virus in the cold sores can quickly move from one person to another.
  • During childbirth. An infected mother can pass HSV to the baby. This is a severe type of herpes that causes severe problems to babies who still don’t have robust immune systems.

Other methods in which herpes can be passed between people is through the sharing of utensils, tools such as shaving equipment, and lip balm.

After the virus is passed, blisters start to appear. It is also possible to acquire herpes if the infected person doesn’t have any signs.

Signs and Symptoms of Herpes

Even without visible signs, it is possible for someone to acquire this infection. HSV is notorious for causing severe disorders.

HSV-1 symptoms

HSV-1 affects the mouth, lips, throat, and face. After acquiring HSV-1, blisters appear on the mouth and lips. In some rare cases, these blister form on the upper part of the throat.

The sores are mainly pale reddish. Lesions can also appear on other parts of the face. The herpes victim may develop red, itchy eyes.

HSV-2 Symptoms

Sores appear on the area around the vagina, penis, and anus. Sores can also appear on other areas such around the pubic area. The sores are excruciating and cause a lot of discomfort during urination, and sexual intercourse. It is possible that sitting might be painful with herpes simplex.

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Itching and tingling are common symptoms among herpes victims. There is usually a considerable feeling of itching around the affected areas.

Eye infections. HSV can spread to the eyes, causing a feeling of sensitivity and discharge. This condition requires immediate treatment because it can lead to loss of vision.

Fever and Malaise are common in people with herpes simplex. There is usually a feeling of sickness and high temperatures. Others symptoms include aching of the groin area.

Forms of Herpes Simplex Infection

There are different ways in herpes manifest itself;

1.Herpes Genitalis

This the typical manifestation of herpes in the genital area. Its onset is about 4-7days since the time of exposure to herpes. Small blisters start appearing on the genitals. A discharge accompanies these blisters.

2.Herpes Whitlow

A lesion caused by HSV appears on the finger. This infection affects the finger or toes. Either HSV-1 or HSV-2 can create it. Doctors and physicians handling herpes patients are at a higher risk of acquiring this infection.

3.Herpes Labialis

This is a situation whereby herpes manifests in the form of cold sores. The main symptom of herpes labialis is a burning feeling accompanied by small sores and blisters.

4.Neonatal Herpes Simplex

This is a rare but severe condition that affects children at birth. The vertical transmission of HSV-2 causes it. This is usually from mother to child.

5.Herpes Esophagitis

This occurs due to infection of the esophagus by HSV-1. The esophagus develops sores that make eating and swallowing of food very difficult.

6.Herpes Encephalitis

This is a condition in which HSV affects the nervous system. This condition leads to a reduction in consciousness and an unstable mental state. It reduces the electrical activity of the brain.

7.Herpes Meningitis

This is a recurrent type of meningitis caused by HSV-2. It occasionally recurs for weeks or months and can resolve without treatment.

Diagnosis and Testing

If it’s clear you might be suffering from herpes, it’s necessary to seek medical attention. Visit a recognized health center and consult the medical staff. The earlier HSV is detected in the body, the easier it will be to curd.

These signs and symptoms of herpes simplex manifest between 2-6 weeks after the infection have occurred. A direct clinical examination is required. In this case, laboratory testing is used to diagnose herpes. The most effective method is the Direct Fluorescent Antibody (DFA) test. This is a rather expensive but thorough method used to detect the virus.

Skin Biopsy is another method of testing the presence of HSV. In skin biopsy, a skin lesion is extracted and places under microscopic observation. The results are available within a week.

Serological tests are also used for testing HSV but on rare occasions.

Management of Herpes

After the herpes diagnosis, it is crucial to exercise the best disease management practices. A herpes victim requires to undergo the right medication to help thwart it. The sad part is that HSV doesn’t disappear from the body completely, but you can suppress it significantly.

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The sores caused by this disease are unbearable. First of all, analgesics help in reducing fever and pain. Anesthetic methods are also used to relieve itching and discomfort.

Antiviral drugs are used to treat herpes. They include Penciclovir, Famciclovir, Aciclovir, and valaciclovir. These drugs are generic and are highly reliable when it comes to treating herpes simplex.

Another way of managing herpes is abstaining. Staying away from casual sex enables a patient to recover quickly and prevents the risk of adding more infections. Also, abstaining helps prevent others from acquiring the virus.

Herpes Simplex during Pregnancy

There is always a high risk of HSV transmission during pregnancy, more so if the mother is infected around the time of delivery. If the mother has recurrent HSV, the risk of transmission is about 3%. If there are no lesions visible, the risk is below 1%.

Children who acquire the virus at birth are likely to survive the disease. However, there are some methods used to prevent neonatal infections. First of all, the mother is advised against oral o genital contact in the last trimester of pregnancy.

During birth, mothers with herpes lesions are advised to opt for cesarean section. C-section is a proven method of minimizing HSV exposure. Though, antiviral treatments can be applied during the last month before birth to reduce the need for C-Section. However, this option might fail in case of an early birthday.

Antiviral treatments such as Aciclovir are recommended to reduce the suppression of HSV. These treatments can cause complications to pregnant mothers.

Effects of Herpes Simplex

The impacts of HSV are quite damning.

  • Psychosocial Impact. Herpes simplex tends to have recurring symptoms. The herpes patient is usually very uncomfortable and causes psychological distress. Some signs are visible, and people around can tell the disease. This leads to significant social stigma and stress. Some people tend to avoid and ignore herpes patients leading to stigmatization. Many herpes victims find it very hard to recover psychologically, and their quality of life is severely affected.
  • Loss of Eyesight. HSV-1 can spread into the eyes very quickly. If not checked soon, it can lead to loss of sight. The eyes start discharging fluids while being very sensitive.
  • High Risk of HIV infection. Herpes victim has a high risk of HIV infection. Through unprotected sex, herpes victims have a higher affinity to HIV.
  • Death. Herpes Simplex causes death if not treated. The virus transmits to other body parts, affects nerves, and weakens the immune system. A weak immune system means vulnerability to all types of diseases, and the result is death. Also, babies who acquire this disease during birth may die since the infection spreads very fast and thereby weakening them.

Prevention of Herpes

Prevention is better than cure; that is well said. The cost of medical care is usually high and heartbreaking. Stigma from friends and family can be even more overwhelming. Since the disease is transmittable, you can block all the means of entry into your body.

  • Safe Sexual Affairs. The most obvious form of prevention is practicing safe sex. Wearing condoms during secure intercourse reduces the risk of HSV transmission. Condoms block genital contact and thus reduces the risk of spread significantly. Although condoms are not 100% perfect, they play a crucial role.
  • Early Screening is another preventive measure against herpes. Both partners can be screened with Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). This is a sure way of staying away from the disease. Regular testing is advised.
  • Fidelity is also a way of limiting herpes. Sticking to one partner keeps one away from diseases and infections. People with multiple partners are likely to get infected with herpes.
  • Maintaining Awareness. Creating awareness is a way of thwarting herpes. You can make the people around you aware of the disease, it’ causes and the risk involved. Creating awareness among the youth and children also helps control this disease.
  • Abstinence. This is the surest, and cheapest way of preventing against herpes and staying away from sexual activity until marriage prevents a person from the damages caused by this infection. It also saves cash, time, esteem, and comfort.
  • Circumcision. Male circumcision also helps lower the effect of HSV transmission. It provides partial protection against HSV-2, HIV, and HPV.
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Life after Herpes

Following the infection of herpes, some people tend to develop some complications. The disease is likely to get recurrent with the first year. If a recurrence occurs, fewer lesions will be formed. However, a person will heal faster than in the original situation. If the person infected with herpes does not use antivirals, recurrences might appear up to 6 times in a year.

People who have had suffered from herpes show healed injuries on the mouth, lips, eyes, and face. Many people also suffer from trauma after recovering from herpes.

Epidemiology of Herpes Simplex

Herpes is not a new disease like HIV/AIDS. It has existed for more than 2000 years. In ancient Rome, people developed cold sores similar to those of herpes. At some point, kissing was banned by the Roman Emperor.

In majority cases, HSV-1 is more common and dominant then HSV-2. Herpes infection is higher in low socioeconomic populations than in populations of improved socioeconomic status. Around 20-28% of the world’s population suffer from herpes. However, less than 1% suffer from fatal herpes.

Research on vaccines and treatments are still on. Previous trials proved unsuccessful. Scientists are looking for a way of eliminating the virus from the human body.

The Bottom Line

Herpes is a very disastrous disease. People should do well to prevent it rather than seek medication. Many people who suffer from find it hard to fit back to the society.

Unlike AIDS, it is visible, and the symptoms are quite ravaging. People are advised to practice the preventive measures mentioned above to stay away from it.