Herpes is a common infection caused by Herpes simplex virus (HSV) that usually presents with painful blisters or sores.
There are two types of HSV: HSV-1 which mostly spreads by oral contact and causes oral and mouth sores. It may also cause genital herpes; and HSV-2 spreads by sexual contact and causes genital herpes.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 3.7 billion people under the age of 50 have HSV-1 infection globally, and an estimated 491 million people aged 15-49 have HSV-2 infection globally.
- For oral herpes (cold sores), symptoms include small, painful blisters or sores on or around the mouth, and fever or swollen lymph nodes in some cases.
- For genital herpes, symptoms include small, painful blisters or sores on or around the genitals or rectum, and flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, and swollen lymph nodes.
Most infected with the virus may have no symptoms or only mild symptoms. For individuals with no symptoms, they may unknowingly pass the virus to others.
For those who have the infection for the first time, symptoms that may be experienced are:
- Tingling, itching, or burning sensation near where the sores will appear.
- Body aches
- Sore throat (especially for oral herpes)
- Swollen lymph nodes near the infection.
- Oral herpes (cold sores) – Small, painful blisters or sores on or around the mouth
- Genital herpes – small, painful blisters or sores on or around the genitals or rectum
The blisters that develop during the primary infection may take up to 6 weeks to fully heal.
For individuals who develop recurrent HSV symptoms, the symptoms tend to be less severe and improve rapidly. The blisters or sores that develop may be less noticeable and painful. They also heal within several days.
- There is no cure for herpes, but antiviral medications can help manage outbreaks and reduce the frequency and severity of symptoms. The medication can also help lower the chance of transmitting the virus.
- Antiviral medications can be taken orally, topically, or by injection, depending on the severity and location of the outbreak.
- Pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen may also be used to manage the pain associated with outbreaks.
- Practice safe sex by using condoms or dental dams during sexual activity to reduce the risk of transmitting herpes to your partner.
- Avoid sexual contact during outbreaks or if you or your partner have symptoms.
- Avoid touching cold sores or genital herpes sores, and wash your hands thoroughly if you do.
- Avoid sharing towels, razors, or other personal items with someone who has herpes.
- Get tested for STIs regularly if you are sexually active.
Living with herpes can be challenging, both physically and emotionally. If you have herpes, it is important to know that you are not alone. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 3.7 billion people under the age of 50 have HSV-1 infection globally, and an estimated 491 million people aged 15-49 have HSV-2 infection globally.
Here are some tips for living with herpes:
- Educate yourself about herpes: Learn as much as you can, including how it is transmitted, how it is treated, and how to manage outbreaks.
- Practice safe sex: Use condoms or dental dams during sexual activity to reduce the risk of transmitting the disease to your partner.
- Talk to your partner: Be open and honest with your partner about your status. This can help you both make informed decisions about sexual activity.
- Take care of yourself: Eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep to help keep your immune system strong and reduce the risk of outbreaks.
- Manage outbreaks: If you have frequent outbreaks, talk to your healthcare provider about antiviral medications that can help reduce the frequency and severity of outbreaks.
- Seek support: Join a support group or talk to a mental health professional if you are struggling emotionally.
Remember that herpes is a manageable condition, and with the right support and treatment, you can lead a healthy and fulfilling life. Living with herpes can be challenging, but with the right treatment and prevention methods, it is possible to manage symptoms and reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to others. It is important to speak with a healthcare provider if you believe you have herpes or have been diagnosed with the condition.
It pays to be informed
Practicing safe sex by using condoms during sexual activity, avoiding sexual contact, and avoiding sharing personal items with someone who has herpes can help reduce the risk of transmission. It’s important to speak with a healthcare provider for personalized advice on managing herpes symptoms and reducing the risk of transmission.
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