Important Facts to Know About the Herpes Virus


by Contributor

Herpes simplex virus, Wikipedia, from CDC, public domain

(Mar. 24, 2020) — When you think of herpes, your first thought is probably on genital herpes. While it’s essential to be aware of that, you should also know that oral herpes exists, too. There’s much to be learned about both of these infections for prevention or treatment. Here are the most important things you need to know about the herpes virus.

Herpes Transmission

Herpes virus is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact with the part of the body that has the virus. The different ways this can occur include kissing, sexual activity, and rubbing of the skin. Additionally, it can be spread through one person touching the area where the virus is, and then touching someone’s mouth or genital area. When sores are visible, this is the highest chance someone potentially having the virus has passed it to them. Herpes can’t be passed to someone else through hugging, sharing a bed, or sitting on the same furniture. Items can pass the virus only when it goes from one person’s mouth or genitals to another person.

It should be noted that in some cases, herpes can be found on different parts of the body besides the mouth or genitals. The different locations sores can appear are on the finger, the eyes, and any other part of the body. When a person’s virus contacts an item, it usually dies within a few minutes or can be killed with soap and water.

Types of Herpes

Herpes is categorized into two types – HSV-1 and HSV-2. There are a few differences between these two types. HSV-1 causes fewer outbreaks on the genitals than HSV-2. HSV-2 generally doesn’t cause oral herpes, but when it does, there are fewer outbreaks on the mouth. In general, HSV-1 tends to cause oral herpes, and HSV-2 tends to cause genital herpes. Most people contract only one of the types, but it’s possible to have both at the same time.

Herpes Symptoms

The symptoms of herpes can be minor to the point of not being noticeable, or sometimes painful and requiring treatment. The most common symptoms of herpes include sores on the body, headache, muscle ache, fatigue, or a feeling that your skin is itchy or burning. In particular, with genital herpes, there can be a painful sensation in the legs or buttocks, swollen genitals, and painful urination. It’s rare for the infection to cause any life-threatening health problems, but the blisters that occur can sometimes be painful and require treatment.

Physical sensations that occur before an outbreak are known as prodrome symptoms. These occur in about half of all those infected. You may experience itching or tingling when the outbreak is about to appear. At times, these symptoms may happen without any appearance of an outbreak.

How to Reduce the Risk of Herpes

Whether you’re trying to avoid getting herpes or want to avoid giving it to someone, there are ways you can prevent it from spreading. It’s first necessary to know whether you or your partner have herpes by getting tested. If you’ve experienced symptoms that appear to be an outbreak, that’s the best time to get tested. A swab test should be conducted within 72 hours of a possible outbreak to get an accurate determination of the results. While there are blood tests that can inform you if there are antibodies to the herpes virus inside of you, it won’t tell you what type you have and where you have it.

As mentioned earlier, the highest chance of herpes transmitting to someone is when an outbreak is happening. During these times, it’s important for partners not to have skin-to-skin contact with the area that has the sores until it’s gone.

Antiviral medications can minimize symptoms and shorten the amount of time an outbreak will last. As a result, your chances of passing the virus are lower. Some choose to take it daily to prevent outbreaks, and others can choose to take it at the first sign of an outbreak.

Types of Outbreaks

There are three types of outbreaks that happen with herpes. There’s the primary first outbreak, the non-primary first outbreak, and the recurrent outbreak. Primary first outbreaks usually occur when someone first gets herpes. The symptoms that follow can be muscle aches, fatigue, fever, and a general sense of unwellness. Primary first is the worst outbreak that some people will experience, and all future outbreaks are usually less severe. The majority of people may not experience these symptoms when they first get herpes.

A week after the first outbreak, most people will experience a second outbreak. The timeline of these outbreaks is usually no more than four weeks, and sometimes as little as two weeks. If you’re aware of the outbreak in its early stages, medication taken within the first 72 hours of an outbreak can help make it shorter. When a person who has one type of herpes gets the other type, that causes a non-primary first outbreak to happen. This type of outbreak doesn’t usually get as potentially severe as the primary first outbreak. There are rarely any full-body symptoms, and they usually don’t last long.

Recurrent outbreaks are what may occur after someone gets the first outbreak. Nonetheless, not all people have repeat outbreaks. In some cases, an individual may have multiple outbreaks within a year. In other cases, a person may never get outbreaks. The first year of herpes is when most people will have repeat outbreaks. In general, this virus tends to be dormant inside the body. Fevers and aches tend to be a rare symptom in this type of outbreak. More commonly, most people will experience sores and itching skin. The recurrent outbreak lasts for 2 to 10 days.

Herpes Treatment

You might be surprised to learn that herpes doesn’t generally require any treatment. It only requires treatment when there’s pain being caused by the outbreaks. As mentioned before, people generally use antiviral medications to minimize symptoms and decrease the time of outbreaks. It should be noted that herpes has no cure, and any products claiming that haven’t been clinically approved. While there’s no cure, there are other alternative therapies besides medication. Some people have found zinc products help with their herpes symptoms, but more research is still necessary. Health professionals should always be consulted before any alternative treatment is used.

General health practices are useful in managing herpes as well. Do your best to eat healthy foods and get enough rest at night. It’s also important to manage physical and emotional stress. Ice packs can be used on sore skin, and ibuprofen can be taken for any severe pain. In particular, with genital herpes, comfortable underwear and loose-fitting clothing can minimize any painful friction with sore skin. Warm baths may help soothe skin, and when drying the area that has sores, avoid using a towel, and instead, air dry it.

Getting Pregnant With Herpes

If you’re a woman who has discovered you’ve contracted herpes, one main concern you may have is whether you might pass it on to your children or not, if you decide to have any. You’ll be comforted to know that it has been found there’s a less than 1% chance of passing herpes to a newborn. Doctors can inform you of the necessary precautions to take to protect your baby. In general, your antibodies will do the job of protecting the baby for you. In the case of an outbreak during labor, your doctor may recommend a C-section to lower the risk of passing it on.

All of this information can help ease your concerns about having the herpes virus. It will hopefully ease the concerns of those who know you have it as well. Continue to educate yourself, and take care of yourself as best as you can to make life with the virus easier.

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