Herpes simplex is a common virus that causes sores and blisters in the mouth and genital areas. Read the article to know its types, causes, symptoms, risk factors, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment.
Herpes simplex virus commonly causes infection of the skin and the mucous membrane. It can cause sores and usually affects the mouth, anal area, and genital region. The herpes simplex infection is caused by a group of viruses that can cause conjunctivitis, cold sores, and genital inflammation. It is a contagious disease that can spread from person to person through direct contact.
Herpes simplex 1 or HSV-1 can spread through oral to oral contact, which causes oral herpes and other symptoms like cold sores, but it can also cause genital sores.
Herpes simplex 2 or HSV-2 is a sexually transmitted disease and causes genital herpes.
The herpes simplex virus stages include:
1. Prodrome Stage - This stage lasts for several hours and indicates the onset of an outbreak. Even though there are no sores or blisters during this stage, it is highly contagious. The virus will travel to the skin's surface and cause redness, tingling, burning sensation, and pain. When the outbreak occurs around the labia or inside the urethra, it can cause painful urination. Some may experience headaches, fever, and swollen glands during this outbreak. Pain can occur in the hip, legs, and buttocks, and the symptoms will worsen if it is the first outbreak of the patient.
2. Development of Blisters - In this stage, the formation of blisters occurs when the virus reaches the skin surface. The blisters can begin as small red bumps filled with fluids and can be sensitive or painful. The skin surrounding the blisters can appear red and is usually formed in clusters. The blister can appear similar to the razor burn, pimples, jock itch, or ingrown hair. Hence they are often mistaken for this condition.
3. Development of the Ulcers - In this stage, the blisters will break and drain the fluids, which results in ulcers. These ulcers will be more painful and uncomfortable than the preceding blisters. The ulcers will look like red or pink craters that ooze fluids and rarely blood. The ulcers will accumulate whitish-yellow dead cells, which may turn into a scab or crust. The crust or scab cannot happen in wet areas like the mouth and genitals.
4. The Healing of the Ulcers - The ulcers will take more time to heal in this stage. For the healing, it can take up to 2 to 4 weeks. As ulcers crust and scab, they will recover from outside to inside. When the crust or scab cracks, it can cause bleeding, and the area will remain red for a while. Scarring can occur if the crust is picked up.
HSV-1 can spread by eating in the same utensils, kissing, and sharing lip balms. The virus can spread very fast if the infected person has an outbreak. HSV-1 can even cause genital herpes if the infected person has cold sores during oral sex.
HSV-2 can be spread when a person has sexual contact with the infected person. Most people will get HSV-1 infection from a person who is asymptomatic or without sores.
The symptoms of the herpes simplex infection include:
Blisters, when broken down, ooze fluids and may form crust and scabs.
The first sores can appear about 2 to 20 days after the person's contact with the infected person.
Oral herpes is caused by herpes simplex virus-2 (HSV-2). The blisters will appear around the mouth, lips, and sometimes on the face and the tongue.
In genital herpes, there will be the formation of sores in the anus and genitals like the penis, vagina, and buttocks.
The risk depends on the exposure to the infection. In HSV-2, a sexually transmitted infection, the people who do not perform protected sex with condoms or any barrier methods are more at risk of acquiring the disease. If pregnant women have an outbreak at the time of childbirth, it can expose the baby to HSV infection and lead to severe complications. The other risk factors of HSV-2 include:
Having sex at a younger age.
Having sex with multiple partners.
Weakened immune system.
Already having a sexually transmitted disease.
A physical examination can diagnose herpes simplex. In this, the doctor may examine the patient for sores or any symptoms.
HSV testing, also known as a herpes culture, is done by collecting a swab sample of the fluid from the sore and sending it to the laboratory.
If there are no sores present, then blood testing for antibodies of HSV-1 and HSV-2 can be useful to detect the infection.
The doctor will take an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) for HSV encephalitis and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF).
There is currently no cure for this virus, and the treatment focuses on reducing the sore and other symptoms. The sore will go on its own, but the doctor may ask you to take one or more of the following medicines:
These medications will help prevent the spread of the infection and help lower the frequency and intensity of the outbreaks. These medications will come in pill form for oral use or can be applied as a cream. In case of severe infection, it can also be administered by injection.
The herpes infection usually spreads from person to person by skin-to-skin contact through vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Therefore, these can be prevented by having protected sex and having no contact with the infected person. Using protections like dental dams and condoms can help to lower the risk of getting herpes and STDs.
Herpes simplex infection is a sexually transmitted disease with no cure. Practicing safe sexual practices and avoiding multiple sex partners can help prevent the disease contraction. Avoid having sexual activities with partners who have lesions in the genitals or oral cavity. If you have developed any blisters on your skin, oral cavity, or genitalia, do reach out to a healthcare provider at the earliest and abstain from having sex.
For more information, consult a specialist online at iCliniq.com.
Last reviewed at:
18 May 2022 - 4 min read
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