HERPES SIMPLEX is a common viral infection. If you’ve ever had a cold sore, you picked up the herpes simplex virus. Most cold sores are caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), which is why HSV-1 is also called “oral herpes”. A different but closely related herpes simplex virus, HSV-2, causes most cases of genital herpes.
Many people who get the virus that causes oral herpes never have any signs or symptoms. If an outbreak occurs, it can cause:
Most people infected with the virus that causes genital herpes never get sores and may never know that they have the virus. If signs and symptoms occur, these can include:
The herpes viruses are extremely contagious and easily spread. Most people get the virus that causes oral herpes, HSV-1, during infancy or childhood. A kiss, cheek pinching, or other skin-to-skin contact from a person who carries the HSV-1 virus often is all that is needed to pass the HSV-1 virus to a child. The infected child may or may not develop herpes sores.
A person who has an active herpes sore also can spread the HSV-1 virus by sharing objects such as eating utensils, lip balm, or even a razor.
Genital herpes generally spreads through sexual contact. Most people become infected during sexual intercourse. If a sexual partner has a cold sore fever blister and perform oral sex, this can spread the HSV-1 virus, causing herpes sores on the genitals.
Infected persons also can spread the virus to unaffected parts of their own bodies by touching a herpes sore and immediately touching unaffected skin.
While a vaccine does not exist, an infected person can take precautions to prevent spreading the virus. If tingling, burning, itching or tenderness develops in an area of your body where you have had a herpes sore, keep that area away from others. When sores is present on the face, avoid kissing and sharing items such as utensils, towels and lip balms.
If you have genital herpes, avoid sexual contact with uninfected partners when you have sores or symptoms. At other times condom can reduce the risk of spreading the virus. It is important to know that while a condom can help, it is possible to spread the virus if it lies on nearby skin that a condom does not cover.
Cold sores and other sores on the face generally clear without treatment. An anti-viral cream or ointment may relieve the symptoms. Many anti-viral medications approved for the treatment of herpes can shorten an outbreak of oral or genital herpes. Taken daily, these medications can reduce the severity and frequency of outbreaks as well as help prevent infected people from spreading the virus. These medications do not cure herpes.
No, but there are medications that can reduce the frequency and severity of herpes outbreaks. Researchers continue to look for ways to improve treatment and eliminate outbreaks.
If you have herpes infection and suspect that you may, a dermatologist can provide you with an accurate diagnosis and treatment.