What is HSV/ Herpes Simplex?

Herpes Simplex virus occurs naturally in humans and spreads through skin to skin contact. It leads to symptoms like watery blisters on the skin or mucous membranes of the mouth, lips, nose, or genitals.  

HSV are of two types

a) HSV Type 1: Transmitted by direct contact or infected secretions, causes lesions around mouth & face.

b) HSV Type 2: Transmitted by sexual contact protected or unprotected, causes lesions around genitals.

How can I get HSV infection?

HSV Type 1 or Oral Herpes: 

Most of the people get infected with herpes sores around the mouth get them through non-sexual contact, like 

  • Direct contact with secretions, cold sores or saliva of an infected person.
  • Children may get through kissing by relatives.
  • Sharing of lipsticks, lip gloss.
  • Sharing of blades and razors.
  • Sharing of utensils, handkerchiefs, towels and other items with infected person.

Nowadays, HSV 1 is also seen on the genital which is transmitted by oral sex. 

HSV Type 2 or Genital Herpes:  

This is transmitted by sexual contact. Since transmission can also happen through close skin to skin contact, protected sex may not offer complete protection against Herpes 2. 

The common modes of transmission are 

  • Direct contact with herpetic sore.
  • By contact with genital secretions (if your partner has a genital herpes infection).
  • Direct contact with the skin lesion either oral or genital.

What are the symptoms of HSV/ herpes in men and women?

General symptoms include:

  • One or more sores or blisters on the skin or mucous membrane of the mouth, lips, nose, or genitals.
  • Vaginal Itching, tingling, burning or painful feeling on the skin.
  • Fever, headache, or muscle aches.
  • Feeling tired or unwell.

Symptoms of Genital Herpes:

  • Small red lesions, blisters or open sores, eventually forms scabs and the sores heal, but they tend to recur.
  • Swollen and tender lymph nodes in the groin area and swelling in legs.
  • Painful urination.
  • Vaginal and cervical lesions, vaginal discharge, pain, itching and pain while urinating.
  • Swollen genitals.

How do I know if I have HSV/ Herpes infection?

  • If you have sex or intimate contact with a person who has HSV /Herpes or may have relationship with multiple partners, a screening test for HSV is advisable.
  • You may also look for symptoms of HSV/Herpes and take a test if you find something suspicious. 

Can I get HSV / Herpes infection by kissing or oral sex?

Yes. Oral sex and deep kissing or french kissing with someone who is infected can lead to HSV.

How do I test for HSV?

  1. Swab test: A swab is taken from a sore or the surface of the skin to collect a sample of the virus.
  2. Blood test:  This test looks for antibodies to herpes 1 and herpes 2. The results need to be interpreted with caution since low titer values are commonly seen and may be of little or no significance. 

Is Herpes infection dangerous? 

The simple answer is “No”. Except in people who may be immune-deficient due to some chronic disease or cancers or other reasons.

It is often said that Herpes is more of anguish than a disease. Treatment with antiviral both oral medications and ointments like acyclovir, famciclovoir, valacycloviretc effectively control the symptoms. 

In a majority of people Herpes lesions do not recur. The recurrence may be associated with repeated infections or low immunity. 

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 67% of people under the age of 50 worldwide have HSV-1. 

In the US, one out of 4 to 5 adults has HSV 2 with approx. 5 lacs new infections every year. That is about 11.9 % of the US population between 14 to 49 years. 

Complications if left untreated?

During Pregnancy: Herpes infection during pregnancy has a risk of miscarriage, premature labor, retarded growth or transmission of the herpes infection to the infants, herpes in newborn babies can be a very serious condition. This is rarely seen nowadays because of effective treatment available. 

Ophthalmic complications: Kertoconjunctivits or chorioretinitis is associated with intrauterine and neonatal infection.

Visceral HSV: may cause dysphoria, substernal pain, tracheobronchitis, and pneumonitis.

Nervous system: HSV meningitis & HSV encephalitis is the most common sporadic acute viral encephalitis,

What should I do in HSV/Herpes infection?

  1. Eating nutritious food and drinking plenty of water.
  2. Adequate rest.
  3. Keep the skin area dry.
  4. Do not break open the blisters and do not put anything on your skin.
  5. If you directly touch the area, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water afterward.

For Genital Herpes

  1. Wear comfortable cotton underwear and loose-fitting clothes.
  2. Regular bath with warm water.
  3. Avoid sitting for long periods of time.              

Can I get herpes infection from my partner without visible sores?

  • Herpes can be transmitted from a sex partner who does not have a visible sore.
  • It is also possible to get genital herpes if you receive oral sex from a sex partner who has oral herpes.

Is genital herpes and oral herpes related?

Some cases of genital herpes are caused by HSV-1, as can be spread from the mouth to the genitals through oral sex.

Can I get herpes by using a toilet / swimming pool?

Herpes does not spread by using toilet seats, bedding, or swimming pools.

Which is a common type of herpes?

Genital herpes is commonly seen in sexually active individuals.

Can I avoid Genital herpes?

Genital herpes can be prevented by avoiding vaginal, anal or oral sex with someone who is infected.

Can get infected if you come in:

  1. Direct contact with secretion or herpes sore. 
  2. Direct contact with saliva or genital secretions of an infected partner.

Can I transmit herpes to my baby during labor?

  • Genital herpes may lead to miscarriage or Herpes infection can be passed on to unborn child before birth or commonly passed to your infant during delivery.
  • Neonatal herpes can be fatal.

How do I know I have genital herpes?

  1. Mild symptoms of genital herpes may be mistaken for pimples or ingrown hair because of this many people tend to ignore.
  2. Herpes sores usually appear as one or more blisters on or around the genitals, rectum or mouth.
  3. The blisters break and leave painful sores that may take a week or more to heal. These symptoms are sometimes called “having an outbreak.”
  4. A repeated outbreak is seen with HSV-2. Repeat outbreaks are usually shorter and less severe than the first outbreak.

Can herpes be cured?

The anti-viral medicines can make it less likely to pass on the infection sex partner(s). There is no cure for herpes.

What happens if I am untreated?

  1. If untreated the chance of transmission of the infection increases.
  2. The secretion from the sores may be the potential for transmission of the infection.
  3. Genital herpes causes painful sores, which can be severe in people with suppressed immune systems.
  4. Pregnant women with genital herpes can pass on the infection to the newborn during labor.

Can I have sex if I am infected with herpes?

  1. Avoid sexual contact if infected with genital herpes, using a condom does not provide complete safety, as it does not cover the entire area.
  2. Risk can be reduced by using condoms, however not get rid of the risk completely.
  3. Risk of spreading the disease increase in the presence of the symptoms.

Can I get an HIV infection if I have herpes?

  1. HIV infection can easily spread by direct contact with the sore and secretions or breaks in the skin or lining of the mouth, vagina, and rectum.
  2. HIV-uninfected sex partners have a higher chance of getting HIV and Herpes infection by sexual contact with their partner’s mouth, vagina, or rectum. If the partner is having both HIV and genital herpes.

Can I get herpes from a partner without visible sores?

It is possible to get contracted with Herpes if you receive oral sex from a partner who has oral herpes.

About Author: LinkedIn

Dr.Anandkumar, has  done his Masters of Public health from the KLE university, Belgaum, worked as I district program specialist in a  NGO and also served as district epidemiologist, in Govt. health dept. has experience in implementation of health programs and training, he has interest in public health research and development. 

DrSafeHands | CDC Hiv Statement