The herpes simplex virus (HSV, better known as herpes) is generally a non-lethal infection, which has two separate manifestations - Type 1 (labial herpes) and Type 2 (genital herpes). Labial herpes is the virus responsible for common cold sores and mouth blisters. However, cold sores are not genital herpes and are not considered an STD!
Herpes is not a curable infection and will reoccur every so often over a persons lifetime. When the virus first enters the body it multiplies quickly, invading and destroying cells. The body's immune system will combat and eventually kill the virus. Unfortunately, HSV will travel up nerve pathways and reside in the nerve cells where the immune system cannot reach it. The virus will remain inactive in the nerve cells for a period of time, but for some unknown reason the virus is reactivated and a new episode of herpes develops.
Between two and twenty days after infection one begins to see the first signs of the herpes virus. Labial herpes affects both genders in the same way. Blisters form on the lips or the interior of the mouth. Genital herpes affects men and women in varying ways. Both experience painful urination, itching of the genital area, and the emergence of blisters on their genitals. Typically, the blisters will begin as a group of tiny, red, painful spots, which develop into yellowish blisters, which then burst. What remains are ulcers which are painful to touch and will heal-up in about 10 days.
While the blisters are active, it is common to suffer from a fever, loss of appetite and/or swelling in the genital area. Men usually have blisters appear on the head of their penis. However, blisters may also appear on the testicular area. Women, on the other hand, have a larger area (the vulva) that may become infected and consequently, may experience more pain urinating. Furthermore, the virus can often be carried into the vagina to infect the cervix. If this occurs, your physician will most likely ask the woman to have a Pap test as the risk of cervical cancer is higher in the presence of herpes.
Herpes is very contagious, especially when the blisters are visible. Herpes is generally contracted through close physical contact (i.e., kissing, oral sex, vaginal intercourse, etc.). The virus is destroyed by heat and chlorine, so hot tubs, steam rooms, and pools are not a place where you can be infected.
When assessing how to protect yourself or your partner against herpes, you must ensure that the blistered area is covered. While the best solution is to refrain from sex while you or your partner is having an outbreak, you may use condoms if the blisters are isolated to the genitals. If, however, a woman’s vaginal secretions leak outside the area covered by the condom, herpes can be contracted. See your doctor at the first signs of any kind of rash or discomfort to discern if it is indeed herpes, and what can be done to protect yourself and your partner. Herpes can be spread by a pregnant mother to her newborn at delivery time. If herpes blisters are present during childbirth, they pose a serious threat to the health of the baby, and typically a caesarian section is performed.
There is no cure available for herpes. Therefore, treatment is directed at relieving discomfort and preventing bacterial infection. Currently, a drug called Oral Acyclovir is being used to combat the effects of labial herpes.
To prevent bacterial infection, keep the genital area clean. Avoid touching the sores and then rubbing your eyes or other parts of the body that are susceptible to infection. Failure to follow these precautions may cause the herpes infection to spread. Always wash your hands (with soap) IMMEDIATELY after touching any herpes related sores. Some anti-viral drugs may also be useful in treating herpes. Please consult a physician before attempting to use any form of treatment.