Herpes Information, Testing & Treatment
Two different types of herpes exist: Simplex I and Simplex II. The herpes virus is transmitted via skin to skin contact. Herpes can be transmitted through sexual contact or a vaginal birth from an infected mother to her baby. Herpes can be controlled with anti-viral medication but it cannot be cured. The antiviral medication is not normally required to be taken on a continual basis but only during symptomatic episodes.
Herpes may play a role in the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Herpes can make people more susceptible to HIV infection, and it can make HIV-infected individuals more infectious.
Genital herpes can cause recurrent painful genital sores. Infection can be severe in people with suppressed immune systems. Genital herpes frequently causes psychological distress in people who know they are infected.
Most people infected with Simpex II are not aware of their infection. This is because they have either never had any symptoms or they mistook the symptoms for something else. However for most people, if signs and symptoms occur during the first outbreak, they are usually quite pronounced. The first outbreak usually occurs within two weeks after the virus is transmitted, and the sores typically heal within two to four weeks. Other signs and symptoms during the primary episode may include a second crop of sores, and flu-like symptoms, including fever and swollen glands. However, most individuals with Simplex II infection never have sores, or they have very mild signs that they do not even notice or that they mistake for insect bites or another skin condition.
People diagnosed with a first episode of genital herpes can expect to have several (typically four or five) outbreaks (symptomatic recurrences) within a year. Over time these recurrences usually decrease in frequency. It is possible that a person becomes aware of the "first episode" years after the infection is acquired.
In addition, genital Herpes can lead to potentially fatal infections in babies. It is important that women avoid contracting herpes during pregnancy because a newly acquired infection during late pregnancy poses a greater risk of transmission to the baby. If a woman has active genital herpes at delivery, a cesarean delivery is usually performed. Fortunately, infection of a baby from a woman with herpes infection is rare.
Herpes appears as redness and small watery blisters on the genitals and these normally heal in 2 – 3 weeks. The blisters can be accompanied by an itching and burning sensation.
Simplex I normally affects the area around the mouth and lips and manifests itself as a cold sore. Simplex II affects the area around the genitalia and rectum but we quite often detect simplex I in the genital area too. Around 80% of the population has type I antibodies, suggesting that they have come into contact with the virus at some point in their lives. The same figure for type II is 25%.
The first eruption of herpes symptoms will normally occur around 7 days after infection. Repeat infections will tend to be milder and the frequency of recurrence varies from individual to individual and outbreaks generally decline as the infected person gets older.
Test and treatment
There is no treatment that can cure herpes, but antiviral medications can shorten and prevent outbreaks during the period of time the person takes the medication. In addition, daily suppressive therapy for symptomatic herpes can reduce transmission to partners.