Herpes is a sexually transmitted infection that is commonly found in the United States. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) statistics, almost 50% of Americans live with at least one variant of this disease.
Herpes is caused by a virus known as Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV). There are two types of HSV, which can cause varying symptoms. Therefore, there are two types of herpes that you need to know about: oral herpes and genital herpes. Both types of herpes have similar symptoms. However, the difference lies in their pattern of distribution. Oral herpes causes blister formation around the oral cavity, while genital herpes causes the same – just further down below!
Other than their pattern of spread, both oral and genital herpes have a lot in common, including their symptoms, transmission, and even the pattern of symptomatic outbreaks.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT ORAL HERPES
Oral herpes, as we know it, is caused by Herpes Simplex Virus type 1, or HSV-1 for short. It is much more common than the genital variety. According to the World Health Organization, nearly 67% of the population of the world have the oral variety of herpes, meaning that nearly 3.7 billion people worldwide are infected with HSV-1.
Oral herpes, as the name suggests, produces symptoms predominantly in or around the oral cavity and on the lips. The blister formation usually occurs in cluster formation, with small clumps of blisters appearing in organized groups. These blisters can be excruciating and cause a lot of discomfort while performing everyday activities like chewing or drinking.
Although the blister formation with herpes is a characteristic feature, not every person with oral herpes will have blisters around their oral cavity. People who experience these symptoms may also not have them all the time.
Herpetic outbreaks, the appearance of blisters in a herpes infection, are irregular patterns of symptomatic outbreaks that appear, disappear, and then recur in a disorganized, random fashion. However, it is known that some environmental triggers, like stress, can increase the frequency and severity with which these symptoms appear.
People with oral herpes can spread it to other people through oral contacts, such as kissing. Using the same utensils, brushes, and other items that establish direct contact with an affected individual's saliva risks transmitting the disease to other people. People with oral herpes can also pass on the virus to other people through oral sex, which causes genital herpes.
Genital herpes follows a similar pattern of disease as oral herpes. The difference is that the genital variety is caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus type 2, or HSV-2. According to the World Health Organization estimates, genital herpes is far less common than oral herpes, with nearly 13% of the world's population affected by the genital variety.
Genital herpes can cause blister formation in the genital region. These blisters can produce immense discomfort while peeing or defecating, apart from being extremely painful. They can also cause a burning sensation while urinating. Blisters can appear on the sex organs, thighs, buttocks, scrotum, penis, and vagina.
Genital herpes is commonly spread through sexual contact. There is a high risk of virus transmission in all types of sex, namely vaginal, oral, and anal. Having unprotected intercourse puts you at the highest risk of acquiring the virus from someone else. Improper use of condoms can also lead to the spread of this virus. Moreover, both types of herpes can also spread to other people if they come into contact with the fluids from the blisters or with open sores.
Both types of herpes follow a similar pattern of progression. Blisters appear after the initial exposure to the virus. These blisters then transform into open sores, which can turn into scabs and eventually resolve on their own – only to come back again after some time.
Treatment for both types of herpes is also the same. Anti-viral drugs are used to keep the viral load in check, which helps to reduce the frequency and the severity with which the herpetic outbreaks appear in an affected individual. Taking anti-viral drugs daily also ensures that your chances of spreading the virus to others are reduced to a minimum.
Topical ointments are also helpful, reducing the pain associated with blister formation. Anti-inflammatory ointments can also reduce the frequency with which blisters appear.
The reason why herpes has no cure lies in the fact that a virus causes it. Many viral diseases have no cure, and only symptomatic treatments are available to help patients cope with the difficulties of their symptoms.
Viral diseases usually have no cure because viruses are notorious for hiding very well in the body. Viruses can change their genome pattern, which changes their surface protein sequence. This means that once a virus is exposed to immune cells, the surface protein memorization by the T cells is rendered useless because the virus would simply change it for their next encounter.
Until an effective cure is made for viral diseases such as herpes or HIV, symptomatic treatment is the best option for reducing the symptoms and improving the quality of life. More research is needed to establish newer, effective targets in viruses to be tackled in a much more proficient way.
CAN HERPES PUT ME AT A GREATER RISK OF ACQUIRING OTHER STDs?
Herpes, like any other STD, can reduce the immune response of an individual by taking over their cellular machinery. This puts a person at a greater risk of acquiring common infections, such as the common cold and other STDs, like HIV.
Numerous associations have been recorded in the literature between the onset and development of herpes, especially the genital type, and HIV.
The best method to protect yourself from HIV if you have herpes is to employ safe sex practices in your life. Prevention is the best solution currently offered against sexually transmitted diseases.
DO CONDOMS PREVENT HERPES INFECTIONS?
Condoms are one of the best ways to prevent acquiring an HSV infection in the first place. In fact, condoms protect against all types of STDs. However, it is still possible to acquire herpes from an infected person even when using a condom during a herpetic outbreak. Sometimes, people don't know how to use condoms. They either put them on incorrectly or don't wear a condom from the start to finish of a sexual encounter.
Another reason for herpetic spread even when using a condom is that herpes can still be transferred if you contact a genital blister or sore. While condoms effectively protect a person from coming into contact with an affected person's genital fluid, they can't cover the genital area entirely, so some blisters and sores are still exposed.
However, since condoms still provide adequate protection against the transmission of herpes, it is always advised to use a condom when sexual intercourse with someone whose herpes status is unknown.
Avoiding sex during a symptomatic outbreak is the best solution to protect yourself against herpes. If you have a partner with herpes, make sure to abstain from sex when experiencing a herpetic outbreak. Also, make sure that your partner takes their medication daily to lessen the frequency of their symptomatic outbursts.
Get yourself tested regularly as well. Getting tested helps in prompt treatment of the disease if you accidentally acquire it from someone.