What is Herpes?

Infections caused by herpes simplex virus are now epidemic. More than ten million people in the United States suffer with genital herpes, and many more suffer with labial herpes or cold sores which affect lips, mouth and face. Both are highly contagious when active sores are present.

Herpes is caused by a virus which enters your body when you come into contact with someone who is infected and shedding it. Once the virus enters your body, an active infection may develop. If it does, you may be capable of passing the virus to another person. A herpes simplex infection appears two to twenty days after exposure. It takes the form of sores on or around the lips, mouth or face; or sores in or around sex organs in the case of genital herpes.

These sores may itch, burn or be quite painful. They may be accompanied by swollen glands, general muscle aches, and fever. In genital herpes, a burning on urination in both men and women or mild vaginal discharge for women may be experienced. Initially the sores may last for a few weeks and then heal completely.

The virus, however, remains in your body, but enters a dormant phase. Some new herpes patients never experience a second episode following the initial infection. Among those who do, some experience recurrences only infrequently, others quite regularly. Recurrences tend to be less severe than the initial infection. General health and resistance, physical trauma and emotional stress may be factors involved in a recurrent outbreak of sores.

Labial and genital herpes are contagious just before and throughout the entire time any sign of an active outbreak persists. However, sometimes symptoms are so mild that the virus is transmitted inadvertently. When any sign of a recurrence is noticed (itching, burning, tingling or sores), you should prevent the affected area from coming in contact with another person.

In the case of labial herpes or cold sores, this means not engaging in oral to oral contact or oral to genital contact. In the case of genital herpes, this means not engaging in sexual relations. Sexual contact is the most common way to transmit genital herpes. Herpes symptoms can be confused with other diseases. See a doctor right away for an accurate diagnosis and early treatment.

Labial and genital herpes can be treated and cared for, but at present not cured. Oral medications are now available that can provide relief for many people with genital herpes. The medication works best if started within the first few days of onset of symptoms.

Personal hygiene is very important. Touching a sore and then touching some other part of your body can move the virus to a new location. This is especially true during the initial episode of the disease. Well-informed people with genital herpes can take precautions to avoid complications.

There are three potential complications with herpes. The first relates to transferring the virus into the eyes after touching an affected area. This may lead to a severe eye infection known as herpes keratitis. If not promptly treated, eye damage may result. The second relates only to labial herpes or cold sores. Instead of going back to cause a recurrence at the original site of infection (mouth, lips or face), in very rare instances the virus may enter the brain and may cause an inflammation called encephalitis.

The third problem relates to transferring the virus to newborn babies. If a woman has active genital herpes at the time of delivery, there’s a chance the infant will contract the disease. Caesarian section is performed if the herpes virus is detectable at the time of delivery.

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