What is herpes?
Herpes is a disease which is caused by a virus called the herpes simplex virus. Herpes manifests in different areas on the body, and is categorised differently depending on the body part infected.
What types of herpes are there?
The most common types of herpes include oral herpes, affecting the mouth or face, and genital herpes (often referred to as simply ‘herpes’). Herpes can also affect the eyes, the fingers, or cause infection in the brain, among other parts of the body.
Herpes simplex has two strains: HSV-1, or type one, affects the mouth, while HSV-2, or type two, generally causes genital infections.
Is herpes contagious?
Herpes is passed along by direct bodily contact of lesions on an affected person, or through body fluids. Even if there are no noticeable symptoms, herpes can still be passed from one person to another. Herpes is very contagious, and after infection, the virus remains in the body as it is transported to nerve cell bodies. This means the virus can lie dormant until it is triggered at some point, for example by stress, a poor or weak immune function, or exposure to sunlight.
What are the main symptoms of herpes?
Many people with herpes are not aware that they have the virus, particularly in cases of genital herpes. This is because symptoms can be very mild, and in some cases, there may be no symptoms at all. However, when symptoms do present, they can be severe.
Genital herpes symptoms include:
- Small blisters that break open and develop into painful sores
- Swollen lymph nodes (glands around the body)
- Flu-like symptoms
Symptoms of oral herpes are similar, in that fever, tiredness, and muscle aches may be experienced. One marker of oral herpes is sores around the mouth, or on the gums, tongue, inside of the cheeks, the throat, or the roof of the mouth. Before sores appear, there may be some itching, pain, tingling, or discomfort felt in the infected area.
Are tests required to diagnose herpes?
If sores are present, the doctor usually does not need to confirm the existence of the virus with a test, as it is already evident. However, sometimes tests can be carried out to confirm if the infection is affecting other organs in the body.
How is herpes treated?
Treatment for herpes usually attempts to control and manage the virus, as it cannot yet be eradicated from the body. Treatments can come in the form of oral medication, usually in the form of an antiviral tablet, or a topical treatment (applied to the skin).
In order to prevent genital herpes spreading to others, sex should be avoided until any sores have cleared up. When sores are present, the condition is especially contagious. When symptoms are not present, it is important to use a condom in order to prevent the virus from spreading. In the case of oral herpes, try to avoid kissing others if a cold sore is present.
Which specialist treats herpes?
Usually it will be a dermatologist who will detect the symptoms of oral herpes sores in the patient and who will analyse the wounds. In cases of genital herpes, a gynaecologist or a urologist may be the one to make a diagnosis and recommend treatment. If you are worried about possible symptoms of herpes, you can also visit your nearest sexual health clinic.
How common is herpes?
Genital herpes is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections.
Can a newborn baby catch herpes?
Yes, indeed they can. There is a high risk that the newborn can contract herpes if the mother has had genital herpes for the first time in her life within the last six weeks of her pregnancy. There is an even higher risk of passing herpes onto the newborn baby if the mother has had a vaginal delivery. Herpes can also be passed to newborn babies if a person with a cold sore kisses the baby.
How dangerous is herpes simplex virus type one, and what can it cause?
Herpes simplex virus type one can potentially be quite dangerous, as it can lead to eye infections, with vision loss a potential eventuality. This type of herpes also causes cold sores.
Does herpes stay in the body forever?
Yes, the herpes virus stays in one's body permanently. When herpes has a foothold in a patient's body, the infection starts creating duplicates of itself and thus starts to spread. This can result in some signs and symptoms that range from symptoms that go unrecognised to extreme illness.
How often do herpes outbreaks occur?
It is estimated that people who have genital HSV-2 suffer from between four to five outbreaks every year, whilst individuals with oral HSV-1 experience an outbreak, on average, once a year.
Can herpes be cured?
As mentioned previously, herpes cannot, unfortunately, be cured, and stays in one's body on a permanent basis.
How is genital herpes diagnosed?
A swab will be taken of the genital lesion or wart, and a positive result from this swab will confirm genital herpes.
Can genital herpes increase my chances of getting HIV?
Yes. It is said that people with genital herpes are up to three times more likely to contract HIV.