Herpes Symptoms: Cold Sores and Genital Herpes

August 19, 2010

Herpes Virus

There are 8 known forms of the Herpes virus, including the Varicella Zoster virus, which causes chickenpox, Herpes 1 (Herpes Simplex 1) which is predominantly responsible for cold sores, and Herpes 2 (Herpes Simplex 2) which is predominantly responsible for genital herpes. The Herpes virus, once caught, remains in the skin. In the case of Varicella Zoster, there is one main outbreak (chickenpox) and then recurrent outbreaks are usually milder and known as shingles. In the cases of Herpes 1 and Herpes 2, the initial outbreak is also usually more severe than recurrent outbreaks, although recurrence is likely to be sooner and more frequent than with Varicella Zoster.

Herpes symptoms are not constant, some people may show no signs of symptoms, others very mild symptoms, and still others might be in extreme discomfort. The strength of your immune system plays a part in determining how your symptoms manifest; for all types of herpes, outbreaks are most likely to happen when the immune system is under duress, like from another illness, stress, or a genetic predisposition. Physical factors like trauma from an outside source–if the area you usually outbreak gets hit, sun or wind damaged–may also trigger an outbreak.

During the initial outbreak of herpes symptoms, the blisters might be accompanied by other symptoms such as a fever, achiness, or tiredness. Mouth herpes (cold sores) appear on the outside of the mouth, genital herpes appear around the genitals and rectum: both can be spread to other parts of the body, including hands and eyes, so care should be taken to keep the blisters clean and loosely covered if they are oozing, and to wash your hands frequently.

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Oral (mouth) Herpes, or Cold Sores

How do you know if that bump is a result of herpes symptoms? Watch it–most non-herpes bumps (nicks, pimples, etc.) should disappear in a under a week, if a bump appears that does not, see a doctor. An initial herpes outbreak usually occurs about 2 weeks after transmission and lasts around a month (the herpes blisters will burst and turn into ulcers). A following outbreak can occur anywhere from a few weeks to years later, if at all, depending on other health factors (like your immune system).

Herpes is highly contagious–1 in 6 people (age 14-49) have herpes 2. Women are more likely to have herpes as it is easier for men to spread herpes. Although herpes is most often spread during sex (both sexual intercourse and oral sex spread both types-Herpes 1 and Herpes 2, either of which can effect any part of the body), herpes can be spread through any skin-to-skin contact, including kissing, and skin to skin sports contact (like wrestling). Condoms as well as other contraceptive devices (dental dams) can reduce the risk of transmission. Avoiding sexual contact when you have blisters, before an outbreak (if you can feel it coming) and after an outbreak can also help reduce the chances of herpes transmission. Before and after an outbreak your skin may be more likely to shed herpes cells, increasing your chances of transmitting through touch.

Many people who have herpes are unaware because their symptoms are so mild or because they have yet to have an outbreak–these people are at the highest risk for spreading herpes to a sexual partner, or, more seriously, to a fetus or newborn, for whom it’s life-threatening. With symptoms management, the risk of spreading herpes during pregnancy can be reduced to about 1%.

Further risks from having herpes include the risk of catching another serious disease–either because herpes weakens your immune system, or because of some undiscovered mechanism, HIV, Bell’s Palsy, Alzheimer’s and potentially other serious diseases are more likely to occur (or be  transmitted as is the case with HIV).

Since your immune system is not capable of either completely defeating or removing herpes on its own, it’s important to give it help and support. The best way to do this is to take care of yourself, and avoid stress and other triggers that may cause herpes symptoms. Further, look for supplements that may help to strengthen your immune system.

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