Herpes is an infection caused by HSV (herpes simplex virus). It affects the external genitals, the anal region, the mucosal surfaces and the skin of other parts of the body.
The herpes is considered a long – term illness. However, many people have never suffered from the symptoms, even if they carry the virus.
Symptoms include blisters, ulcers, dysuria, cold sores and vaginal discharge. Although there is no cure, it can be treated with medications and home remedies.
In this article, we are going to talk about the symptoms of herpes, how to treat it and how to prevent it.
Quick facts about herpes:
- There are two types of herpes simplex virus: HSV-1 (type 1 herpes or oral herpes) and HSV-2 (type 2 herpes or genital herpes).
- More than 50 percent of Americans suffer from HSV-1.
- About 15.5 percent of Americans between 14 and 49 years old suffer from HSV-2.
- Practicing oral sex with someone who has cold sores increases the risk of becoming infected.
- It is impossible to get genital herpes in a toilet seat.
Most people do not experience symptoms for months or years after being infected with the virus. Patients suffering from symptoms during the initial stage will usually begin to notice them about 4 days after exposure (the average round between 2 and 12 days).
Many people with HSV suffer from recurrent herpes. When someone is infected for the first time, recurrences tend to appear more frequently. However, with the passage of time, the periods of remission lengthen, so, when they appear, they tend to become less severe.
Symptoms during primary infection
Primary infection is a term used during an outbreak of genital herpes and occurs when a person is infected for the first time. Symptoms can be quite serious and include:
- blisters and ulcers on the external genitals, in the vagina or on the cervix;
- vaginal discharge;
- pain and itching;
- swollen and tender lymph nodes;
- high temperatures (fever);
- feeling sick (feeling bad);
- cold sores, or
- reddened blisters on the skin.
In most cases, ulcers usually heal and individuals will not have lasting scars.
Symptoms during recurrent infection
The symptoms that appear in a recurrent infection tend to be less severe and do not last as long as in the primary infection phase. Normally, the symptoms will not last more than 10 days and include:
- burning or tingling sensation around the genitals, prior to the appearance of blisters;
- appearance of blisters and ulcers in the cervix;
- cold sores, or
- reddened blisters
On some occasions, less frequent and severe recurrences may occur.
When HSV occurs on the surface of the skin in an infected person, it can be easily transmitted to another individual through the moisturized skin that covers the mouth, anus and genitals. The virus can also spread to other individuals through other areas of the skin, such as the area around the eyes.
A human being cannot get HSV by touching an object, a work surface, a sink or a towel that has been tampered with by an infected person. The infection may appear in the following situations:
- During vaginal or anal sex without protection.
- During oral sex with a person suffering from cold sores.
- During the exchange of sex toys.
- During genital contact with an infected person.
The virus is more likely to be transmitted just before the blister appears, when it is visible, and until it has healed completely. HSV can be transmitted to another person even if there are no signs of outbreaks, although there is less chance.
If a mother with genital herpes suffers sores during childbirth, she may transmit the infection to the baby.
There is a wide variety of treatments, including:
Baths with a little salt can relieve herpes symptoms.
There are many home remedies that can help, such as:
The intake of analgesics, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
Saltwater baths help relieve symptoms.
- Hot baths in general.
- The application of petroleum jelly in the affected area.
- Avoid tight clothing around the affected area.
- Wash your hands thoroughly, especially after touching the affected area.
- Do not have sex until symptoms have disappeared.
- In case of dysuria, the application of a cream or lotion specific to the urethra, such as lidocaine, can relieve pain.
Some people believe that ice can help, however, it is not advisable to apply it directly to the skin, first, it should be wrapped with a garment or towel.
There is no medication that can eliminate the herpes virus. Doctors can prescribe an antiviral drug, such as Acyclovir, that prevents the multiplication of the virus. Antiviral medications will help the outbreak disappear faster and reduce the severity of symptoms.
Normally, doctors prescribe antiviral medications to the person who suffers the symptoms for the first time. Since recurrent outbreaks are usually mild, it is not necessary to follow any treatment.
Episodic and suppressive treatment
Generally, episodic treatment is prescribed to people who suffer less than six recurrences in 1 year. Doctors may prescribe antiviral drugs within 5 days each time symptoms appear.
Doctors prescribe suppressive treatments if a person experiences more than six recurrences in a year. In some cases, the doctor may recommend that the individual carry out an antiviral treatment indefinitely. The goal is to avoid multiple recurrences. Although suppressive treatment significantly reduces the risk of transmitting HSV to a partner, there are still some possibilities.
Tips for prevention
If you want to reduce the risk of developing or transmitting genital herpes:
- use condoms when having sex;
- do not have sexual intercourse while symptoms are present (genital, anal or skin rubbing);
- no kisses when you have cold sores, and
- Do not have multiple sexual partners.
Some people believe that stress, tiredness, illness, friction with the skin or sun exposure can trigger the recurrence of symptoms.
Identifying and avoiding these triggers could help reduce the number of occurrences.
Translated by Carmen María González Morales
Reviewed by Brenda Carreras
Medically reviewed by Xixi Luo, MD
Written by Yvette Brazier