Symptoms for herpes vary in their pattern of manifestation, duration, and even frequency. Therefore, not every person with herpes experiences the same symptoms with the same frequency.
The most common manifestations of herpes include ulcers, blisters, and sores on either the oral cavity or the genital region, depending on your exposure to the type of herpes virus. These symptoms typically appear randomly and last for about a week before disappearing on their own – only to return about a month after. However, there is no strict timeline for when the symptoms appear because the symptomatic outburst depends on several factors, including environmental triggers, your immune health, and whether or not you are taking treatment for herpes.
Other than the blister formation, a herpes infection can manifest in many different ways, which usually resemble the symptoms of a common cold. Please read below for a detailed explanation of herpes symptoms, when they appear, and how to reduce the frequency with which they appear.
SYMPTOMS OF A HERPES INFECTION
Herpes, a sexually transmitted disease, is caused by the herpes simplex virus. There are two types of this virus: HSV-1 and HSV-2. Both types affect people differently and have varying symptoms and severity of symptoms.
HSV-1 usually causes oral herpes. Symptoms of oral herpes include blister formation in the oral cavity or on and around the lips. These blisters are small, fluid-filled vesicles that cause pain, itching, and redness on the skin. Typically, these blisters follow a set pattern of transformation where they go from fluid-filled vesicles to open sores and then follow through to the scab formation stage before finally resolving on their own.
HSV-2 has a similar pattern of blister formation that follows through the same mechanism of transformation. However, the difference lies in where these blisters appear, mainly the genital region. Typically, these blisters can occur on sexual organs such as the penis and vagina. They can also appear on the perineum, the skin in the genital region, thighs, scrotum, buttocks, and vulva.
Blister formation can be pretty tough to deal with, mainly because these blisters appear in sensitive areas: the oral cavity and the genital region. People with painful sores and blisters in the oral cavity often have difficulty chewing and drinking. Genital sores can cause a painful or burning sensation when peeing. If the blisters form in or around the anus, defecation can become very difficult.
While blister formation is the typical pattern in a herpetic outbreak of symptoms, these symptoms are not always present. Sometimes, the symptoms of herpes can resemble that of a common cold. People may never experience a blister outbreak and be simply riddled with a recurrent sore throat, headaches, body aches, and fever. This non-specific pattern of symptoms is usually why people with herpes never know that they have been infected with HSV.
Symptoms of herpes, whether genital or oral, can appear at any time after exposure to the virus. The onset of symptoms as well as the recurrence rate can be slowed down to an absolute minimum with effective and prompt treatment with antiviral drugs. Topical ointments are also useful in reducing the painful blister formation on the skin. Anti-pyretic drugs and painkillers are given when the non-specific symptoms of herpes are predominant.
While treatment with antiviral drugs effectively reduces the severity and the frequency with which the symptoms appear, prevention remains the best treatment for herpes. Using a condom for sexual activities, not getting involved with too many sexual partners, and getting tested regularly for STDs reduce your chances of contracting the virus by many folds.
IS SHINGLES THE SAME THING AS HERPES?
Shingles are similar to a herpes simplex infection, and a herpes virus also causes it. However, the difference lies in the virus that causes the condition. Shingles are caused by the Herpes Zoster virus, while herpes, the sexually transmitted disease, is caused by the Herpes Simplex virus.
Shingles are the physical manifestation of a herpes zoster infection, which also causes chickenpox. It is a blister outbreak in the dermatome region – a patch of skin innervated by one sensory nerve. Typically, a dermatome is infested with painful fluid-filled blisters that leave scabs upon their natural resolution during a shingles outbreak.
It is very difficult to notice whether or not you have been exposed to HSV because the symptoms are non-specific most of the time. However, if you experience the typical herpetic outburst, the stage of blister formation on the genitals and in the oral cavity, you should contact your doctor immediately. You should also contact your doctor if you have been experiencing recurrent infections that resemble the common cold.
It is best to stay alert and keep yourself safe from acquiring a herpes infection in the first place. If you have had a sexual encounter with a person whose herpes status is unknown, get tested for herpes immediately. The same applies when you have had several unprotected sexual encounters with multiple people.
Suppose during intercourse; you notice a tear in the condom that you're wearing. In that case, it is best to contact your doctor immediately to test you for the disease and start you on effective treatment immediately.
Tests for herpes include blood tests and scab examination. Your doctor may diagnose herpes just by looking at the blisters or scabs on your skin. They may also take samples and send them for pathological examination. However, if you are not experiencing any symptoms at the time of testing, your doctor may order a blood test to diagnose herpes.
Blood tests for herpes are designed to test for anti-HSV antibodies. These antibodies are produced by your immune cells in an effort to tackle the virus. The presence of these antibodies indicates an ongoing herpes infection. However, keep in mind that the presence of these antibodies does not tell you how long you have had this virus.
IS HERPES CURABLE?
Herpes is not curable. Once contracted, a person will have to live with the disease for the rest of their life. However, effective treatment is available with antiviral drugs that decrease the symptoms' severity and frequency. Topical ointments are also available to reduce the pain, itchiness, and redness of the skin associated with blister formation. Your doctor may also provide you with antipyretic drugs and painkillers for supportive treatment.
CAN I PASS HERPES TO MY BABY IF I AM PREGNANT?
Unfortunately, herpes infections can be passed down to the baby through a vertical transformation during pregnancy and childbirth. It is best to get tested for herpes and other STDs before conceiving a baby so that you can make an informed decision.
If you acquire herpes during pregnancy, your doctor might start you on antiviral drugs taken during the last trimester of the pregnancy to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to the baby. At the time of birth, your doctor may examine you for physical signs and symptoms of the disease.
Herpes, when passed to the newborn, can cause a lethal infection known as neonatal herpes. Therefore, it is best to prevent HSV exposure by employing safe-sex practices. Getting tested regularly also reduces the risk of infection.
CAN I STILL HAVE SEX IF I HAVE HERPES?
People with herpes can have an active sexual life but only with extreme precautions. Experts believe that taking antiviral drugs every day can reduce your risk of transmission to other people. It is also believed that abstaining from sex during a herpes outbreak is the best prevention method.
Be honest and open about your condition with your partner to make an informed decision about your sex life. Talk to a doctor about any questions you may have about your sex life and ensure that you stay on treatment regularly to reduce the risk of transmission to your partner.