There are two types of herpes diseases and both are caused by the herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) or the herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2). The first type of herpes is oral. The second is genital and is an STD (sexually transmitted disease). Although HSV-1 can cause genital herpes, HSV-1 is associated mainly with oral herpes. HSV-2 seems to be linked more closely with genital herpes.
Estimations suggest anywhere from fifty to eighty percent of adult Americans suffer from oral herpes. Estimations for genital herpes count at over fifty million worldwide. Every year, approximately 500,000 Americans are told by their doctors that they have genital herpes—that’s near epidemic proportions, and herpes diagnosis in the U.S. are on the rise, especially in young teens.
Interestingly, of the fifty million people infected worldwide with genital herpes, the majority are most likely to not even know they have genital herpes. In both oral and genital herpes, the virus is spread from person to person by way of touch. When an outbreak occurs, it is wise to refrain from sex and kissing in general, although a herpes patient does not have to be exhibiting an outbreak to spread the virus to other people.
Oral herpes outbreaks are also known as cold sores. An outbreak consists of one or more blisters forming on the chin, cheek, mouth, lips, nose, or throat. Most commonly, the outbreaks occur on and around the lip area. Sometimes canker sores are mistaken for oral herpes. When a herpes outbreak takes place inside the mouth, it is usually is on the top of mouth roof.
Canker sores form in the mouth’s soft tissue areas such as the inside of the cheek. Without proper hygiene, oral herpes can spread to the fingers, and this is called herpes Whitlow. Frequent and proper hand washing is the best method of preventing Herpes Whitlow as simple soap and water kill the virus.
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An outbreak of genital herpes consists of lesions and groups of cysts around the genital area. Though both men and women can get genital herpes, it is more common in women, affecting about one out of four.
To date, no cure exists for either oral herpes or genital herpes. Vaccine development is ongoing, and currently the best herpes remedies involve management control with suppressive antiviral therapy. A weak immune system can lead to more frequent outbreaks.
Causes of Herpes
As stated before, contracting either oral or genital herpes is caused by the HSV-1 and HSV-2 viruses. HSV-1 is more commonly associated with oral herpes whereas HSV-2 ir more commonly associated with genital herpes, though either virus can cause either type of herpes.
Herpes is transmitted primarily from person to person through touch. The herpes virus can be present in saliva, flaking skin, and various bodily secretions and fluids such as vaginal discharge and seminal fluid.
A person suffering from either oral or genital herpes does not have to be exhibiting symptoms to transfer the virus to someone else. Some people describe an itching or tingling sensation on the skin before a herpes outbreak occurs. These sensations are a signal that the virus is present on the skin and are termed prodromal symptoms.
A person knowing he or she is experiencing prodromal symptoms can just as easily spread herpes to someone else as a person experiencing the actual outbreaks.
A person suffering from herpes can also not have any symptoms what so ever—prodromal or actual outbreaks—and can still spread the virus. This is called asymptomatic transmission. Some people may have symptoms so mild that they do not even make the connection between their slight itching and herpes. The street name for those that spread the virus via asymptomatic transmission are is Shedders.
Anecdotal evidence also suggests that one can contract herpes from unclean public toilet seats, though no actual hard science backs this theory.
Herpes both oral and genital types can be simply diagnosed with a visual exam from a qualified medical doctor.
Usually, with genital herpes a visual exam is only the start of a complete and accurate diagnosis. Several other conditions can bear a resemblance to genital herpes.
Fungal infection or mycosis sometimes can resemble genital herpes. Lichen planus is a reoccurring disease, much like herpes. It causes similar herpes look-alike lesions and rashes. Atopic dermatitis causes the skin to act oddly to normal environs such as food or certain types of clothing. The diseased area becomes itch, flaky, and red and often times is mistaken for genital herpes. Urethritis is an inflammation of the duct where urine is discharged. Urethritis causes difficulties in urinating and pain while urinating. Although urethritis bares no resemblance to genital herpes in symptoms, it is often mistaken by the layperson because of the area in which urethritis effects.
In a case of genital herpes, after a doctor makes a visual examination, the next step laboratory analysis. Samples or a biopsy of the infected area can be tested, as well as blood samples taken. For women, genital herpes can sometimes only occur within the vagina, and so therefore are no outward visible signs of the virus. PAP smears work best in this particular situation.
In the case of oral herpes, do not kiss anyone exhibiting symptoms. If the oral herpes sufferer is experiencing prodromal symptoms, then that person should refrain from kissing others as well to prevent the spread of oral herpes.
It is important to note that oral herpes has the potential to become genital herpes, and the spread of oral to genital can usually be easily prevented. Simply put, if experiencing prodromal symptoms or a full-on oral herpes outbreak, do not participate in oral sex.
As for genital herpes, in general, avoid sex during a outbreak. In between outbreaks, utilize condoms, foams, and spermicides.
Lab tests have shown that the HSV-1 and the HSV-2 viruses can not penetrate latex. Condoms made of polyurethane materials should be avoided because they tend to break, tear, and rip much more often than latex condoms. The use of latex condoms is not a guarantee against the herpes viruses. The latex condom still does break, and a herpes outbreak does not have to be confined to only the genital areas covered by a condom.
Foams and spermicides that contain chemicals such as nonoxynol-9 have been shown in clinical lab tests only to kill the herpes virus. Foams and spermicides should not be used as a replacement of condoms but in conjunction with condoms.
Condoms in conjunction with foams and spermicides, informing the sexual partner about the herpes condition, and avoiding sexual activity during an outbreak can reduce the chances of receiving the HSV-1 or the HSV-2 virus up to forty percent.
Abstinence or complete monogamy with a herpes free partner reduces the risk of herpes exposure to absolute zero percent.
Herpes Risk Factors
Although there is presently no absolute cure for herpes, finding an actual cure seems to be on a low priority list for biological researchers, scientists, and non-profit organizations in comparison to diseases such as diabetes and cancer. This is probably the case because herpes poses no real medical emergency. The virus is painful, annoying, and in the case of genital herpes specifically can sometimes cause depression in a person due to the sensitivity of the area the virus affects.
However, neonatal herpe (herpes contracted by a baby through the birthing process of a mother infected with herpes) can cause mental retardation, severe neurological damage, and even death. If infected with either of the herpes viruses in the genital area, it is critical for the mother-to-be to inform her doctor of the condition.
Neonatal herpes is an exceedingly rare condition though. Out of four million births a year in the United States, rough estimates count neonatal herpes at between 1000 and 3000 cases per year. Out of the twenty to twenty-five percent of pregnant women suffering from genital herpes, less than 0.1% of their newborns contract neonatal herpes.
Still, with human life hanging in the balance, neonatal herpes is a legitimate concern. It’s important to note that neonatal transmission rates are higher for women who contract herpes while pregnant. If the partner has herpes, and the woman does not, it is probably best to avoid sexual relations until the pregnancy has come to full term. About fifty percent of babies that contract neonatal herpes and are treated with the proper antiviral medication do not avoid permanent, lasting damage.
Treatments of Herpes
For treatment of oral herpes, not much can be done except to wait for the outbreak to be over. Management of pain and symptoms seems to be the order of the day.
- A cold wet towel helps to reduce the swelling of a cold sore if used a minimum of three times a day, and for twenty minutes during each application.
- Ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and aspirin for those over twenty reduces the pain associated with cold sores.
- Baking soda mouth rinses can help reduce the pain as well.
- Avoid eating tomatoes, oranges and other fruits and vegetables that contain high concentrations of acid.
- Over the counter ointments such as Zilactin, Ziladent or Abreva actually do increase the amount of time it takes to heal a cold sore, and studies have shown can actually prevent the cold sore if applied at the time of prodromal symptoms.
For treatment of genital herpes, not much can done either except to wait for the outbreak to be over. Management of pain, symptoms, and the number of outbreaks one receives per year seems to be the order of the day.
HSV-1 and HSV-2 are direct attacks on the body’s immune system, and outbreaks tend to increase when the body’s defenses are not up to par, so the absolute best method of dealing with herpes is supporting the body’s immune system.
- Eat right and exercise. Do not over-do the snacks to the point where one becomes overweight. An overweight body tends to reduce the efficiency of the immune system.
- Decrease the intake of foods with arginine. Arginine is a naturally occurring amino acid that is needed for the herpes virus to replicate. Arginine rich foods include wheat, oats, chocolate, nuts, and gelatin.
- Increase the intake of foods with lysine. Lysine is a naturally occurring amino acide that seems to block the body’s production of arginine. Foods rich in lysine include fish, chicken, vegetables, and dairy products.
- Avoid smoking, coffee and other caffeinated products such as soda pop and tea. Avoid alcohol as well, as all of these toxins lead to a less effective immune system.
- Get enough sleep. Reduce life stresses and worry: these can all trigger an outbreak.
Additional Treatment Options
There are antiviral treatments on the market that help with the pain and sometimes quicken the length of time an outbreak lasts. Prescription drugs are the most common, such as Famvir, Valtrex, and Acydovir. Some people opt for ointments like Dynamiclear. It’s best to see a medical doctor to determine the exact treatment suited specifically to the patient’s individual needs.