Overview of Herpes Simplex
Herpes simplex virus is abbreviated HSV. It is an infection that triggers herpes. Herpes can manifest in various parts of the body, especially the mouth or the genitals. There are two variants of the herpes simplex virus.
HSV-1: This variant causes oral herpes. It is HSV-1 that causes fever blisters and cold sores on the face and around the mouth.
HSV-2: It is the major cause of genital herpes.
What causes herpes simplex?
Herpes simplex virus is quite contagious. It is transmitted through physical contact. Children can contract HSV-1 from an adult who has been infected by the virus, after which they will be carriers for life.
The HSV-1 variant can be contracted from physical interactions like:
- Sharing lip balm
- Sharing eating utensils
The spread of the virus occurs quickly during an outbreak. At least 67% of people aged 49 and younger are seropositive for the virus, even in the absence of an outbreak. One may also get HSV-1 genital herpes if he or she had cold sores and engaged in oral sex.
HSV-2 is sexually transmitted. Having sex with a person who has the virus puts you at risk. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, over 20 percent of sexually active persons in the United States are positive for HSV-2. Contact with herpes sore increases your risk of HSV-2 infection. Contrastingly, many people may get the infection from an asymptomatic person, or someone who doesn't have sores.
Risk factors for developing herpes simplex virus
Anyone may be at risk of developing herpes simplex virus, regardless of the age. Your risk is mostly dependent on exposure to the virus.
The risk of sexual transmission is higher if one fails to use protection (like condoms) during sex.
Other factors that constitute a risk for HSV-2 include:
- Having sex at a young age
- Female gender
- Having many sex partners
- Having a compromised immune system
- Having an underlying sexually transmitted disease
A pregnant woman who has herpes during childbirth risks transmitting the virus to the baby, and may increase their risk of complications.
How do I know that I have herpes simplex?
It is worth knowing that a person may not have the symptoms or any visible sores and still have the virus. They could also pass it across to others.
Common symptoms of herpes simplex virus include:
- Pain while urinating
- Sores with blisters (on the genitals or in the mouth)
An infected person may also experience flu-like symptoms, including:
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Lack of appetite
HSV can affect the eyes as well, resulting in a condition known as herpes keratitis. Herpes keratitis is characterized by symptoms such as discharge, gritty sensation in the eye, and eye pain.
Diagnosis of herpes simplex
Diagnosis is done via a physical examination. Your doctor will examine your body for sores and inquire about your symptoms.
You may also be asked to do an HSV testing – the herpes culture. It is a confirmatory test that proves that you have herpes. Herpes culture is usually done if the patient has sores on their genitals. During the herpes culture, the doctor will swab some fluid from the sore and forward it for testing at a testing facility.
Blood tests for HSV-1 and HSV-2 antibodies also help with the diagnosis of these infections. They are most helpful especially when there are no sores to show that you are infected.
Treatment for herpes simplex
There is no cure for this virus presently. Treatment centers around getting rid of the sores and reducing outbreaks.
Sometimes the sores may resolve even without treatment. But then, your doctor may prescribe either of the following medications:
These medications are helpful for those who are infected with the virus as it minimizes the risk of transmission to others. These medications also reduce the frequency and intensity of outbreaks.
Medications for herpes simplex may come in cream or pill form. In severe cases, these medications may be administered intravenously.
How to boost your immune system during a herpes simplex infection
The first outbreak usually occurs shortly after infection. However, the virus never leaves the body totally, and that's how it can cause further outbreaks. Herpes outbreaks are very discomforting, but that’s not all. Because of its highly contagious nature, an infected person can easily pass it to others during an outbreak.
Herpes usually weakens the immune system. The good news is that there are steps you can take to boost your immunity and keep the virus in check.
Eat lots of vegetables and fruits. There’s no better way to keep your immune system strong than by eating healthily. Vegetables and fruits are loaded with minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants to boost your immune system. Ensure you take at least five servings of vegetables and fruits every day.
Add lean proteins to your diet. Lean proteins are healthy and beneficial to your immune system in several ways. Protein helps in the production of white blood cells, which are very essential in the fight against herpes. When you eat a diet rich in lean proteins, you will get satisfied (filled up) without necessarily adding more fat to your diet. A high-fat diet impairs the T-lymphocyte function. T-lymphocytes are white blood cells that play very pivotal roles in combating infections.
Eat immune-boosting herbs. Oregano and garlic are great examples of spices that you can incorporate into your daily diet to boost your immune system. These spices contain many nutrients and compounds that fight infections. A study by the Harvard Medical Schools has shown that other herbs that have immune-boosting features include echinacea, licorice root, and ginseng.
Live a healthy lifestyle overall. How strong your immune system is, depends in part on your overall health. Get at least 8 hours of sleep every night. It allows your body to recharge and heal itself. Avoid smoking or excessive consumption of alcohol. Both products weaken your immune system and also has a draining effect on your body’s resources. Engaging in regular exercise can boost your immunity.
What is the prognosis for herpes simplex virus?
People who are infected with the virus will carry it for the rest of their lives. Even if the symptoms fail to manifest, the virus will still live on in the nerve cells of an infected person.
Some people may experience outbreaks regularly. Others may experience just one outbreak after infection, and then the virus gets dormant. Even in its dormant stage, a stimulus can initiate an outbreak. Such triggers include:
- Menstrual period
- Illness or fever
- Sunburn or exposure to the sun
The intensity of outbreaks may lessen over time because the body will begin to create antibodies. If a healthy person with no underlying conditions gets infected, he or she will not develop any complications.
How to prevent the spread of the virus
There is no cure for the virus – that’s a fact! However, you can take preventive measures to avoid transmitting to others or contracting from others.
If you are experiencing an HSV-1 outbreak, you can try the following preventive tips:
- Avoid establishing physical contact with other people
- Never share personal items like cups, clothing, silverware, lip balm, or towels.
- Do not engage in kissing, oral sex, or other sexual activities during an outbreak.
- Wash your hands with care. Medications should be applied with cotton swabs to minimize contact with sores.
If you have HSV-2 infection, avoid all sexual activities with other people. If you've been diagnosed but experience no symptoms, ensure that you use a condom during sex. But even if you use a condom, note that you can still get the virus from your partner’s uncovered skin.
Pregnant women who are infected may use medications to prevent the transmission of the virus to their unborn babies.