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 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 eye, 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 body 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 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, poor immune function, or exposure to sunlight.

Genital herpes is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections.

What are the symptoms of herpes?

Many people with herpes aren’t 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
  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes (glands around the body)
  • Flu-like symptoms

Symptoms of oral herpes are similar, in that fever, tiredness, and muscle aches may occur. 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.

Is there a test for 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.

What is the treatment for herpes?

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 against 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. 

What 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 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.

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