Herpes simplex is a common but contagious viral infection. Anyone who has had a cold sore or fever blister has contracted the herpes virus. It is believed that most affected individuals contract the infection during childhood. There are two types of herpes simplex: oral (HSV-1) and genital (HSV-2). There is no cure for herpes simplex but treatments are available to shorten or suppress outbreaks.
Causes: The herpes simplex virus is contagious and can be spread by skin-to-skin contact or from wet surfaces where the virus is present (e.g. kissing, sexual contact, contact sports, drinking glasses, toothbrushes). HSV-1 infection is more commonly found on the face, around the mouth and nose. HSV-2 has historically been the cause of genital herpes, but HSV-1 can also cause genital herpes. Herpes simplex virus is spread initially to the skin, and then eventually moves to reside in the local nerves. Usually, when this virus is reactivated, a lesion is produced. This lesion sheds the virus. However, the viral shedding may happen without a lesion present.
The herpes simplex virus may remain dormant (inactive) in the nerve for long periods of time, or it may be triggered by illness, stress, sun, surgery, menstruation, or acidic foods. Outbreaks are recurrent, but frequency of outbreaks usually decreases with time.
Symptoms: The first outbreak of herpes simplex is usually the worst, but may occur without symptoms and go unnoticed. If the first outbreak goes unnoticed, a later outbreak, if more severe, may be confused as the first. This can cause stress and confusion, especially in HSV-2 outbreaks.
Symptoms may include burning, tingling, swelling, pain, redness, and blisters. Lesions more commonly occur on or around the lips and nose, chin, cheeks, genitals, buttocks, lower back, and posterior thighs although lesions have the potential to occur anywhere on the face or body. Outbreaks may last from several days to several weeks.
Treatment: Although there is no cure for herpes simplex, medication is available to decrease pain and the duration and frequency of outbreaks. Over-the-counter medications are available to soothe the pain and burning of mild “cold sores”. More painful outbreaks may require topical or oral prescription medication.
Recurrent, frequent, and severe infections of HSV-1 and HSV-2 may need ongoing suppression therapy with oral antiviral medication to prevent outbreaks.
*Results may vary per patient.