Understanding Herpes Simplex Virus along with its symptoms and risk factors

Dr Smriti Naswa Singh, a Consultant Dermatologist & Cosmetic Dermatologist, Fortis Hospital, Mulund, shares her insights about the Herpes Virus and how one can prevent it from happening

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Herpes is a viral contagion caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus. Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV)-1 and Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) -2 are the two types of virus that cause this infection.

While HSV-1 is common and results in sores near the mouth, HSV-2 infection results in sores near the genital and rectal areas. HSV-1 is passed on through oral secretions and can be spread through sharing objects like toothbrushes, and others.

On the other hand, HSV-2 is passed on during sexual contact with someone who already has HSV-2 infection.

HSV-2 can also be characterized as a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) and is spread via direct contact with the infected person’s bodily wounds or fluids. Pregnant women, especially with HSV-2, should consult the doctor, as it can be passed on to the baby while giving birth. It is vital to know that both HSV-1 and HSV-2 can spread even if there are no open wounds on the body.

Here are some symptoms one should watch out for:

Herpes Simplex Virus – 1: HSV-1 can appear on the outside of the mouth or lips, inside the mouth, or on the tongue. The areas affected include skin near the Eyes (Periorbital region), can also affect cornea and conjunctiva, called Herpetic Keratitis and conjunctivitis respectively. Symptoms may last for around 3-10 days, and re-occurrence of sores affects the same area. The symptoms are:

  • Open, blistery, or thick sores
  • Pain while chewing and swallowing
  • Itchiness
  • Hoarseness in the throat

Herpes Simplex Virus – 2: The symptoms of HSV-2 usually disappear in 10 to 21 days. Re-occurrence usually affects the same area but is less severe. The symptoms of genital herpes include:

  • Internal and external wounds or sores that are small, fluid-filled, and appear in clusters
  • Itching in the genital or anal area
  • An ache in the legs, buttocks, or genital area
  • Pain when urinating
  • Unexplained vaginal/penile discharge

Risk factors: Herpes is a common virus, its risk is heightened when exposed to certain activities such as Unprotected sex: HSV-2 is most often spread from one person to another through sex, including oral sex. HSV-1 can also be spread through sexual activity, although it is not as common.

Sharing things: HSV-1 virus can be transmitted by sharing things such as toothbrushes, and even towels that have come in contact with the virus. Using someone else’s lipstick, lip gloss, or lip balm can also be problematic as these items are inherently moist, which allows the virus to easily stick on them.

Here are some tips on dealing with herpes, help soothe the pain and alleviate distress:

  • Consult your doctor, if you see blisters/ sores around your mouth or your genitals
  • Avoid touching your sores
  • Talk to your partner, and use condoms
  • Place towel-wrapped ice packs on the affected areas
  • Keep the area clean and dry
  • Wear cotton undergarments & loose-fitting clothes
  • Refrain from sexual activity, until the symptoms are gone
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after touching the affected area

Preventive measures: The viruses are there in the environment, and can be contracted like people contract the common cold. Hence keeping ones immunity levels up helps. To keep immunity high, one has to:

  • Eat a well-balanced diet
  • Exercise
  • Sleep well
  • Be stress-free, as much as possible.

There are many HSV virus vaccines under trial, but none has been approved to date.