What Is Herpes? 

What is herpes? Herpes is a disease caused by simplex virus. HSV-1 is the type that causes cold sores around the lower face and about sixty percent of adults have tested positive for this form of the virus. HSV-2 is usually the cause of genital herpes, a sexually transmitted disease that approximately sixteen percent of adults test positive for. While those numbers combined are high, there are still people who may have herpes but have never been tested. Herpes can cause blisters and reddened skin. It is classified based on the location the virus manifests itself. The most common form of herpes is oral herpes, which appears on the lower face, typically around the mouth. The second is genital herpes which is typically a sexually transmitted disease.

Symptoms of Herpes

If you want to know the answer to "what is herpes?" you should start with symptoms. Symptoms of herpes can vary from person to person depending on immune system response. Both men and women with herpes may have vague or mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. Below are some of the common symptoms.

1. Symptoms of Oral Herpes

  • Pain, discomfort, or itching of the area that can begin days before any visual sign of the virus;
  • Fever, usually low-grade;
  • Sore throat;
  • Swollen and sore lymph nodes in the neck;
  • Appearance of small, fluid-filled blisters over painful reddened areas of skin. These blisters can ooze and break, and can form larger blisters followed by a crust that forms then falls away, revealing healing skin;
  • Blisters can return if virus is reactivated by stress or illness.

2. Symptoms of Genital Herpes

Early symptoms can occur within a few days to a week of exposure and can include:

  • Headache;
  • Fever;
  • Muscle aches;
  • Decreased appetite;
  • An overall feeling of malaise;
  • Sensitivity, itching, or pain on or near the vulva, penis, or rectum.

Later symptoms can occur within two weeks of exposure and can include:

  • Chills;
  • Fatigue;
  • Fever;
  • Swollen and sore lymph glands;
  • Blisters that rupture and develop into painful sores or lesions, which last about two weeks;
  • Unusual vaginal discharge;
  • Groups of blisters appearing on areas exposed to the virus, including thighs, buttocks, anus, or genitals.

What Causes Herpes?

The second step of knowing "what is herpes?" is to find out its causes. The most common cause of oral herpes is contact with saliva. Sharing utensils, kissing, and even sharing things like razors can all spread oral herpes. Until recently studies have shown that oral sex also can spread HSV-1, since either type of the herpes virus can be found around the mouth and genitals. The virus travels through body fluids and can gain access through open wounds or sores, or mucous membranes. Both types of virus are contagious and can cause genital infections. The virus can also be passed from mother to baby during pregnancy and especially when there is an active infection during delivery.

Risk Factors of Herpes

There are a number of risk factors for developing herpes. These include:

  • Exposure to saliva of an infected person from kissing or shared utensils;
  • Being born to a mother with an active infection during childbirth;
  • Weakened immune system due to age, certain medications, chemotherapy and conditions such as HIV/AIDS;
  • A history of other sexually transmitted diseases;
  • Unprotected sex with someone who has the herpes virus;
  • Being female, though men are also at risk.

How Is Herpes Treated?

The final step of knowing "what is herpes?" is figure out how to deal with it. Herpes is a virus, so it has to run its course. But there are still a number of treatments for herpes, both medical and home remedies.

1. Medical Treatments for Herpes

When herpes is first diagnosed your doctor will typically prescribe medication. The most common antiviral drugs include Acyclovir, Famciclovir, Valacyclovir. These medications will be prescribed according to the severity of the outbreak.

  • Initial treatment. Once your doctor has diagnosed you with herpes you will be given a seven to ten day trial of anti-viral medication. The treatment may continue for a few days more even if initial treatment doesn’t seem to be working.
  • Intermittent treatment. If your outbreaks of herpes are irregular or don’t happen often you may receive a prescription for anti-viral medications only for when you need them. By having medication on hand you can take them as soon as you have signs of an outbreak which can help minimize duration and severity.

2. Home Remedies for Herpes

  • Regular treatment. If your outbreaks of herpes occur more than six times a year, your doctor can prescribe anti-viral medication for you to take on a daily basis. This type of suppressive treatment can reduce any outbreaks by up to 80%.
  • Try warm, moist compress. Soaking in warm water or applying compresses can relieve symptoms of itching, discomfort, or pain that you may have. Adding Epsom salts to the water may also help soothe skin irritation. You can clean the sores and blisters gently with warm, soapy water which can help them heal faster.
  • Apply a topical cream. Topical treatments won’t heal the virus but can help alleviate itching, discomfort, and pain caused by the sores and blisters, soothing the skin. One type of ointment called propolis may help heal the lesions of herpes. You can apply the ointment four times a day for ten days.
  • Wear loose clothing. Restrictive, tight clothing can aggravate the symptoms of genital herpes, causing pain, itching, and discomfort. Wear loose, breathable clothing to help the lesions heal.