Herpes is one of the most common kinds of viral infections that is transmitted from person to person all over the world. There are many viruses that comprise the herpes virus family, however, herpes simplex (which is referred to as herpes in popular lexicon) is primarily of two kinds, Herpes Simplex Virus-1 (HSV-1)and Herpes Simplex Virus-2 (HSV-2). HSV-1 is considered to be responsible for lesions that occur above the waist, while HSV-2 is responsible for those in the lower half of the body.
It should be noted here that even though the most commonly affected areas of the body include cold sores by HSV-1 and genital herpetic lesions by HSV-2, other parts of the body can also be affected. HSV-1 lesions have also been found to occur in the genital area, presumably due to sexual activity when one of the affected persons had HSV-1 lesions.
What causes Herpes Simplex?
This virus is transmitted from person to person through direct contact. Once a person has been infected with the HSV-1 virus, they will remain a carrier of the disease for the rest of their life. The main mode of HSV-2 transmission is through sexual contact with someone who is infected and has active sores.
An important distinction here is that HSV-1 can be transmitted even when the infected person does not have any active lesions while HSV-2 cannot.
Who Does Herpes Simplex Affect Most?
Herpes Simplex can affect people of all ages, races, and genders. The only question here is exposure to the infection. HSV-2 is more likely to affect people that follow risky sexual practices like sex with multiple partners without the use of condoms, people who are already suffering from another sexually transmitted disease, or people whose immune system has been compromised.
Signs And Symptoms Of Herpes Simplex
Blisters, that most commonly occur in the mouth or the genital areas, are the most common symptom of herpes. They may, however, appear on other parts of the body as well. A burning sensation and pain during urination form two more symptoms. Frequent itching in the areas where the blisters have formed, fever, fatigue, headaches, reduction in appetite and swelling of the lymph nodes are also symptoms that can be seen during an HSV infection.
A thorough medical history and clinical examination of the sores is almost always enough to come to a definitive diagnosis, however, in cases where no apparent sores are present a blood test may be ordered to check for antibodies to HSV infection.
Treatment Of Herpes Simplex
There is no curative treatment for Herpes Simplex and the medicines prescribed are focused on helping the patient cope with the symptoms until the immune system recovers and is able to fight off the infection on its own.
Some doctors also prescribe antiviral medication, however, the fact of the matter is that even if nothing is prescribed then the condition will take care of itself in a few days.
Pregnant Women and Genital Herpes
Contracting Genital herpes during pregnancy is a very serious situation. The main risk here is that the virus could spread to the infant during labor and delivery resulting in ‘Neonatal herpes’. This is a rare but devastating condition which can cause permanent damage to the central nervous system, affect the mental development of the child and even cause death.
The highest risk is to those babies whose mother’s contract herpes late in their pregnancy. For women who have suffered from herpes before getting pregnant are at very low risk of infecting their infants. Our body makes antibodies to the viral infection which are passed on from the mother to the child and so even if the virus if active during the time of delivery, the child will be protected.
If a pregnant woman has an active herpes lesion around the time of expected delivery, it is recommended to opt for a cesarean section so that the baby does not pass through the birth canal.
How To Test For Herpes?
There are several tests that are available to test for Herpes. Viral cultures, Blood tests, and DNA tests can all be used to test for Herpes. Usually, if a person is showing symptoms at the time of the test then a viral or DNA test is preferred while a blood test is preferred for those who symptoms have subsided.
The most accurate method to test for Herpes is by taking a swab sample from the area of the symptom and then carrying out a viral culture. This way the exact Virus can be tested for and identified.
The disadvantage of this method is that the swab may not always carry an active virus and thus provide a false negative result. This test is best carried out within 48 hours of the symptoms appearing.
This test is less likely to give a false negative result than a viral culture since it does not need the presence of active viruses. A swab needs to be taken from the area showing symptoms and is then tested for certain nucleic acid sequences that help in identifying the underlying virus.
This is the most commonly kind of test used nowadays.
These tests basically measure the level of IgM and IgG antibodies produced in the blood in reaction to the viral infection. While IgM antibodies are the first to appear, tests for these antibodies are not recommended.
They tend to disappear quickly from the blood and can thus give a false negative result. They also cannot help in distinguishing the type of herpes virus that caused the infection and can sometimes cross-react with other viral infections.
IgG antibodies will stay in the blood for life once they appear. The problem though is these antibodies take a variable time to appear in the blood. The time taken for these antibodies to reach detectable levels varies from a few weeks to a few months among different individuals.
It is recommended to wait for at least 12-16 weeks after the infection before going in for an IgG blood test for Herpes infection.
People that suffer from Herpes Simplex infection are at risk of recurring infections in their latter decades of life or when their immune system is compromised. There is not much that can be done to prevent these outbreaks and the focus should be more on practicing safe sexual practices to help minimize the spread of Herpes Simplex infection.
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