Herpes Symptoms and Treatment Understanding This Virus & It's Treatment
Herpes Type 1 is one of the most common sexually-transmitted infections in the US…
According to the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC), genital Herpes Type 1 affects 776,000 people in the US per year. And that’s just the new infections.
This statistic is echoed worldwide with an estimated 67% of the population being infected as of 2016. It mostly affects women below the age of 50 with Africa having the highest prevalence rate at 88%.
Despite this, the disease remains a taboo topic in society. It still carries with it a ridiculous amount of social stigma. Victims often suffer more from psychological trauma than physical symptoms. Many of them struggle with depression stemming from feelings of shame and rejection during outbreaks.
It’s no wonder then that those who have it are scared to speak up or seek help. This “mum” culture contributes to the continuous rise of herpes infections around the world. It’s also why the majority of cases, particularly in third world countries, are not diagnosed.
There are two types of viruses that cause herpes: herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). HSV-1 usually causes oral herpes. HSV-2, on the other hand, is mostly responsible for genital herpes. But it’s possible for either virus to cause both oral and genital herpes.
Oral herpes usually affects your lips and the area around it, the inside of your mouth, and your throat. In rare instances, the symptoms also show up around the eyes.
Meanwhile, genital herpes commonly shows up in the genital and rectal area. This includes your vagina, vulva, anus, cervix, penis, and scrotum. It can also appear in your butt and thighs.
Once you get infected, the virus will stay with you for a lifetime. It can become dormant at certain times. But certain factors can trigger a recurring infection.
Though it can cause certain complications, it’s rarely life-threatening. Most people don’t even realize they have herpes as most cases are asymptomatic.
How Herpes Spreads
The herpes virus is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact with the infected area. HSV-1 is commonly transmitted through oral secretions and HSV-2 through sexual contact. This is why kissing and the rubbing of genital parts can pass on the infection.
Since it only takes direct skin contact, you can get the virus even if your penis or tongue doesn’t go all the way inside the anus, vagina, or mouth. Even a quick smack on the lips can spread the infection. It’s also possible to get oral herpes from someone who has genital herpes if your mouth touches their genital areas. In the same manner, you can get genital herpes from someone with oral herpes.
You can also pass herpes from one part of your body to the other. Like when you have genital herpes and you touch your genital area then touch your mouth without washing your hands. It can also more easily get into your skin if there are openings caused by cuts, burns, rash, and lesions.
But, contrary to popular belief, herpes cannot be transmitted through inanimate objects. Thus, the belief that you can get herpes from sharing utensils, razors, or towels is a total myth.
Even if there are no visible sores, the infected person is still contagious. Though the rate of contagion at this point is lower.
Aside from sexual contact, pregnant women may also pass herpes to their newborns. As the baby passes through the vagina, their skin comes into contact with the infected area.
Symptoms of Herpes
Herpes symptoms don’t usually appear until after a few days. On average, herpes patients only notice symptoms four days after exposure to an infected person. In most cases, the symptoms never appear or are very mild to even be noticeable.
When symptoms do appear, they show up as one or several blisters around your mouth and genital area. These blisters then break and leave painful sores which cause extreme discomfort.
These symptoms come in waves. Remember that the virus can become dormant. When reactivated, they can cause recurring infections.
The first herpes “outbreak” usually takes two to four weeks for the lesions to heal. This is what we refer to as the primary infection stage. Recurring infections, however, have a different set of symptoms than the primary infection stage. They are usually less severe and heals much faster. Recurrences are also less frequent in genital herpes.
Primary Infection Symptoms
Aside from the lesions, HSV patients also experience the following symptoms during the primary infection stage:
- body aches
- lack of appetite
- swollen lymph nodes
- pain and itching
- scabbing of the skin
- vaginal discharge
- pain when urinating
During this stage, viral shedding is also increased making HSV transmission much more likely. When the sores heal, it usually does not leave any lasting scars.
Recurring Infection Symptoms
During recurring outbreaks, herpes patients usually experience:
- pain in certain parts of the genital area
- tingling or shooting pains in the legs, hips, or buttocks days before the lesions appear
- red blisters
- cold sores around the mouth
Recurring symptoms are much more common than primary infection symptoms. Long-term herpes patients will also be able to recognize the signs before the symptoms reappear. Studies also suggest that recurring outbreaks tend to be less frequent over time.
Though it rarely causes fatal consequences, a herpes infection can be dangerous for people with compromised immune systems. This includes people with HIV and those taking immunosuppressants.
Aside from severe and painful lesions, herpes can also cause serious complications like ascetic meningitis. In very rare cases, central nervous system (CNS) dissemination can also occur.
As of today, there are still no clinically proven vaccine or cure for herpes. But the symptoms can be treated. Here are some herpes treatments you can try:
1. Antiviral Treatments
Antiviral medications are often prescribed during the primary infection stage. But they can also be used to prevent recurring infections from blowing up into a full outbreak. They are proven to speed up the healing of lesions and shorten the amount of time a person experiences symptoms.
For now, there are only three FDA-approved antiviral treatments for herpes:
Remember that the effects of these antiviral medications can vary from person to person. So make sure to consult your doctor before taking any of these.
2. Home Remedies
For herpes outbreaks with mild symptoms, antiviral treatments are often not necessary. Instead, you can try out home remedies such as:
- Cold compress. Applying an iced pack to the infected area can reduce the swelling. It also has a numbing effect which reduces itching.
- Warm compress. Research suggests that applying heat on a sore can minimize pain and swelling.
- Painkillers. You can buy acetaminophen or ibuprofen over-the-counter.
- Garlic. Crush or blend a clove of garlic and mix it with some olive oil. The garlic’s antiviral properties can provide relief against both strains of herpes.
- Salt bath. This helps relieve itching and pain from the herpes lesions.
- Apple cider vinegar. Mix it with a small amount of water and apply to the infected area.
- Petroleum jelly. Applying this to the infected area moisturizes the skin making the sores much less painful.
- Topical herbs and oils. Essential oils from plants like chamomile, thyme, lemon balm, neem, and licorice can help relieve herpes symptoms.
Proper diet and consuming less sugar can prevent herpes symptoms from recurring too. Also, make sure to avoid wearing tight clothes around the infected area. Else, the sores will be rubbed raw and become even more painful.
For many years, supplements have been used to either prevent or treat myriads of diseases. Though they may look like prescription medicines, supplements are usually made of natural ingredients. As such, there is less risk of overdose and harmful side effects.
For treating herpes, you need to look for supplements that boost your immune system. This will help your body suppress outbreaks more easily.
Most herpes supplements contain vitamins and minerals such as zinc, lysine, and vitamin B complex. Some supplements like Herpezine also contain natural extracts that are proven to provide relief from herpes symptoms and outbreaks.
4. New Herpes Treatments
As medical technology advances, researchers are discovering new ways to treat and prevent herpes.
One of the innovative treatments that scientists are currently looking into is microbicides. They are chemicals that protect the body from viruses by killing them before they can enter our system.
Scientists believe that a topical microbicide designed for vaginal application can help protect you against genital herpes. This may look promising but more research has yet to be done. So you can’t expect this treatment to become mainstream anytime soon.
5. Support Groups
Being diagnosed with herpes may feel like your life will never be the same again. In most cases, the psychological trauma lasts long after the symptoms have gone.
This is why herpes support groups are popping up all over the country. They provide support for herpes patients who are struggling to cope with the disease. You can find one online or at your local community. The American Sexual Health Association also has a list of support groups that meet in person.
How to Avoid Herpes
Since herpes is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, avoiding contact with someone else’s mouth or genitalia will help you avoid herpes. This means no kissing and/or vaginal, anal, or oral sex. In theory, this is the ideal scenario.
But we all know that, in reality, that is next to impossible. Most people are bound to engage in sexual intercourse at some point in their lives. This is why practicing safe sex is essential. Using protection like condoms and dental dams reduces your risk of catching herpes.
Know that not all herpes sores occur in the area covered by the condom. Thus, it will not totally protect you from herpes. Still, it’s better than nothing.
Of course, you need to talk to your partner too. If you already have herpes, it’s important to be honest with your partner – even if you don’t feel any symptoms. This way, you can both plan how to best avoid transmission of the virus.