Herpes Simplex

Herpes simplex is a skin infection, caused by Herpes simplex viruses, affecting mostly the mouth or genital regions. Oral herpes create cold sores in the mouth or face whereas Genital herpes comes through sexual intercourse affecting genitals, buttocks or anal. Even oral sex may lead to Herpes simplex. The virus can spread irrespective of the existence of sores. Women having Herpes simplex are likely to infect their babies during childbirth.

Herpes simplex in some people does not show any symptoms while in others the virus may cause sores in the area of the body where it entered. They appear as itchy and painful blisters before going away. The virus can adversely affect the prognosis of the newborn babies and even adults whose immune systems are very weak.

Outbreak of Herpes simplex is frequent in many people. Your body can fight the virus with the help of medicines besides lessening symptoms and decreasing outbreaks. Appropriate use of latex condoms can only minimize the chances of catching or spreading herpes virus and not eliminate it altogether.

Types and causes of herpes simplex

Herpes simplex is basically of two types-Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and Herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2).

The virus infecting the lips, mouth and face is known as Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). HSV-1, which mostly occurs in the childhood results in the formation of oral lesions such as cold sores (also called fever blisters). It comes mainly through contact with infected saliva. However, a majority of people develops antibodies to HSV-1 by the adulthood.

Herpes simplex virus type 2(HSV-2) that comes through sex is called sexually transmitted disease. Ulcers and sores appearing in the genital region are the main symptoms of HSV-2. HSV-2 might result in certain complications like meningoencephalitis (condition pertaining to infection and inflammation of brain), conjunctiva and cornea (condition affecting eyes). Symptoms in some people with HSV-2 are not visible. Nearly 30 per cent of adults in United States are found to have antibodies against HSV-2. Moreover oral-genital contact may lead to cross-infection of HSV-1 and HSV-2.

Another form of herpes is herpetic whitlow (an infection of finger), which mostly occurs in health workers because of their exposure to saliva during procedures. The disease has also found in young children.

The herpes virus can also lead to infection in the fetus and result in abnormalities. Chances of transmission of virus from infected mother to her babies at the time of vaginal delivery are also high.

Symptoms

Following are the symptoms of Herpes simplex:

Oral sores.

Lesions in the genital region that may initially cause burning or tingling sensation.

Oral or genital blisters or ulcers. Oral blisters can affect mouth, gums and lips while genital blisters can appear in the genitals.

Fever blisters or cold sores.

Herpes simplex may cause fever particularly during the first episode.

Lymph nodes in the neck or groin grow larger than their normal size.

Screening and diagnosis

Doctors can mostly tell you if you are infected by herpes simplex or not only through visual inspection of the lesions. However, the disease can be confirmed through certain medical examination and tests, which include blood test, herpes viral culture of the lesion (a laboratory test to examine skin sample and determine whether it is infected or not) and even Direct fluorescent antibody (DFA) test.

Herpes Simplex Treatment

Mild cases of Herpes simplex do not usually require treatment. However, some antiviral medications like acyclovir (Zovirax), famciclovir (Famvir) and valacyclovir (Valtrex) may be prescribed for those with severe or prolonged cases.

In case a person has been affected by genital herpes for more than six times in a year, he will need to continue with antiviral medications to minimize the chances of further recurrences.

Possible Complications

Meningitis

Encephalitis

Eczema herpetiform

Keratoconjunctivitis (an infection of eye)

Prolonged, severe infection in those with suppressed immune systems

Pneumonia

Trachea infection

Prevention

It is very difficult to prevent herpes simplex because people are mostly likely to spread this virus without even having any symptoms of an active outbreak.

It is essential to avoid coming in contact with an open lesion so as to minimize the chances of infection.

It is advisable for those with genital herpes to avoid sexual contact particularly when active lesions have developed in their genitals. However, they can avoid the chance of infection by going for safer sex behaviors such as use of condoms.

Those with active herpes lesions should not come in contact with newborn babies or kids having eczema. The contact may infect the children. Even those with weak immune systems are also at the risk of getting infection if they are contacted with persons affected by herpes virus.

In order to minimize or even avoid the risk of infection of newborn babies, doctors mostly recommend a cesarean delivery (C-section) for pregnant women having an active herpes simplex infection during delivery.