The term 'herpes' is derived from a Greek word which literally means 'to creep'. And this is how the herpes simplex virus (HSV) attacks the human body. It infects the mucous membrane and the skin of the person, and creeps all along in the pathway of the nerves, right to the nerve clusters. It remains in the body of the person in both active and inactive states.
There are two types of herpes simplex viruses that can attack the human body: HSV 1 and HSV 2. These can attack an individual separately or at the same time, causing either oral or genital herpes. These are easily transmitted through direct contact, either sexually, or by touching human fluids such as the saliva or genital discharge. Earlier, it was believed that it was HSV 2 only that caused genital herpes, however, now studies reveal that both the viruses can easily be responsible for both oral and genital herpes.
It is found that almost 20% of the adolescent and adult population in the United States is infected with the HSVs. Also, it is believed that almost 10 to 25% of infected people do not show any signs and symptoms. Regardless of that, they can easily infect another person through close contact.
How Do the HSVs Infect the Human Body
They transmit through the body fluids of the infected person. These fluids may include the saliva, genital fluids such as semen or vaginal discharge, or the fluid from the herpes sores that breakout in the body. These viruses then enter the human body through the mouth, eyes, or through injuries in the skin which can expose the mucous membrane of the body.
They attack the cells present under the skin and start multiplying under the nuclei. This is the initial stage where no symptoms of infection are observed. It is only when the viruses successfully destroy the host cell while multiplying, that the initial symptoms such as inflammation, tingling, and blisters appear. Once they have started multiplying themselves, they start spreading from the skin cells to the nerve cells, and finally end up getting clustered at the ends of the nerve cells. Once clustered, they stay inactive and stop multiplying for some time. However, they unpredictably start getting active later on. A stage known as 'shedding' comes when these organisms transmit from one person to another through close contact.
The symptoms are categorized on the basis of their type. As mentioned earlier, HSVs can either cause genital or oral herpes. The symptoms and signs for the same are explained as under.
Genital herpes occur in the genitals and the surrounding areas such as the buttocks and thighs. The symptoms may or may not occur at all, depending from person to person. However, if they do occur, they usually start showing within 1 to 2 weeks after contracting the virus through sexual contact. This infection is recurring in nature and therefore one must be prepared for the same.
The symptoms are more severe during the primary outbreak, and they start becoming milder in the following outbreaks.
- Tingling sensation in and/or around the genitalia, thighs, and buttocks
- Inflammation around the affected area with redness
- Dull pain and swelling
- Red bumps that eventually end up developing into blisters
- Formation of blisters that are watery and can rupture, leaving an open sore behind
- Itching on the lesions
- Swollen glands in the groin and/or neck
- Vaginal discharge
- Difficulty in urinating
The non-genital or oral herpes do not affect the genital area, but the mouth and lips of the person. Though, very rarely, the face is also infected, where it is also known as facial herpes. The outbreak of oral herpes can also occur in children (if they are infected since birth or otherwise) and can prove to be very painful. The sores occur on the lips or in the mouth, but they usually heal within 3 to 14 days. Like genital herpes, even oral herpes can recur from time to time, and the first outbreak is usually the most troublesome. Mentioned below are the symptoms.
- Formation of blisters on the lips
- Foul breath
- Increase in the production of saliva
- Open sores after rupture of blisters
- A yellowish liquid discharge from the lesions
- Muscle pain
- Swallowing problems
- Soreness in the throat
The infection isn't life-threatening, but there have been instances wherein people have also died. Although, there is no cure, antiviral medications can definitely help in the treatment. There are oral and topical medications that should be taken on a regular basis to keep the infection within control. It is always best to take precautionary measures to prevent transmitting the virus to others.
Use protection during intercourse and avoid contact with people having a weaker immune system, such as the elderly, kids, and diabetic people. Your doctor would be the best person to suggest the best treatment and precautionary measures in your individual case. Take care.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is meant for informational purposes only and should not be considered as a replacement for expert medical advice.