Herpes is a viral sexually transmitted disease that can be caused by herpes simplex virus type 1, or HSV-1, or herpes simplex virus type 2, or HSV-2. The American Academy of Dermatology noted that HSV-1 causes most cold sores cases, while HSV-2 causes most genital herpes cases. However, because of mouth to genital contact, HSV-1 can cause genital herpes and HSV-2 can cause oral herpes.
Both herpes simplex viruses are common. MedlinePlus noted that most people have HSV-1 by age 20. With HSV-2, about one in six people have the virus. The rate is higher in women, as one in five women between the ages of 14 and 49 have the virus, compared to one in nine men of the same age group, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The symptoms caused by HSV-1 and HSV-2 depend on where the infection is. In cases of genital herpes, the individual may not be aware that she has become infected.
If symptoms do occur, they begin within two weeks of the infection. Common first symptoms are sores on the genital regions, which will heal within two to four weeks after appearing.
During this time, some patients may have flu-like symptoms and a second outbreak of sores. These flu-like symptoms include a general sick feeling, swollen lymph nodes in the groin, decreased appetite, muscle aches and fever.
The CDC noted that when an individual is diagnosed with genital herpes, she is expected to have four to five outbreaks within a period of a year. Women may also experience vaginal discharge and difficulty emptying their bladder.
When individuals come into contact with HSV-1, they may or may not develop mouth sores right away. Patients who have symptoms start experiencing them one to three weeks after contact.
Warning symptoms come before the presentation of the mouth sores. These warning symptoms include tingling, burning or itching around the lips. Some individuals may also have swollen glands, painful swallowing, sore throat and fever.
When the sores appear, they can be on the patient’s throat, gums, mouth or lips. MedlinePlus noted that if the oral herpes symptoms return, they tend to be more mild.
Certain factors can trigger the symptoms of HSV-1 and HSV-2. Genital herpes may be reactive during menstruation or times of emotional or physical stress. Fatigue, injury and genital irritation are other triggers.
Oral herpes has some of the same triggers, including menstruation and stress. Other triggers for oral herpes include being out in the sun, and fever.
No cure exists for genital herpes, though antiviral medications can help reduce outbreaks. Medication options include valacyclovir, acyclovir and famciclovir. These same medications are used to treat oral herpes symptoms.
The CDC added that individuals may take daily suppressive therapy when they have symptomatic herpes in order to reduce the risk of passing on the virus to their sexual partners.
Pregnant women with general herpes have additional concerns. If the virus is newly acquired late in the woman’s pregnancy, there is a greater risk that the virus will be transmitted to the baby.
Women who have active genital herpes at the time they are delivering their babies will undergo a cesarean section instead of a vaginal delivery to prevent viral transmission. To prevent an outbreak, a pregnant woman with genital herpes may take herpes medication during the last month of the pregnancy.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Genital Herpes. Web. 20 March 2012
American Academy of Dermatology. Herpes Simplex. Web. 20 March 2012
MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Genital Herpes. Web. 20 March 2012
MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Herpes – Oral. Web. 20 March 2012
Reviewed March 20, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith