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What You Need to Know About the Herpes Virus

Written by Dr. Rokhsar

There are two types of herpes virus strains:

Herpes Simplex (HSV-1)

HSV-1 causes a common viral infection in the form of a cold sore or fever blister. Oral herpes, mouth herpes, and herpes simplex labialis are among the different forms of cold sores that are caused by HSV-1, which is contracted by skin-to-skin contact with an infected person.

Herpes Simplex (HSV-2) or Genital Herpes

HSV-2 causes most cases of genital herpes. One out of every six people, 14 to 49 years of age have genital HSV-2 infection is also contracted by skin-to-skin contact. Some may not even experience breakouts and instead remain just as carriers.

Symptoms typically appear in the form of multiple blisters around the mouth, genitals, and rectum. Blisters can also occur inside the mouth or along the tongue. Repeated breakouts of genital herpes are common and are usually accompanied by fever, body aches, and swollen glands.

Some individuals experience little to no symptoms, and because of this, are unaware they are infected.

Symptoms of the Herpes Viruses

Both HSV-1 and HSV-2 can cause sores on face or genitals if skin-to-skin contact is made with an infected area. There is no cure for the herpes virus, but fortunately, most herpes related sores and rashes can clear without treatment. There are topical creams and ointments to alleviate any burning, itching or tingling a person may experience.

Antiviral medicine can also be taken orally (pills) or intravenously (shots) which can help lessen the severity and frequency of outbreaks, as well as to aid in prevention from spreading the virus. A dermatologist can typically tell by looking at an outbreak if it is herpes, although they may take a swab from a sore and send it to a laboratory to confirm the diagnosis. If sores are not present, other medical tests can be administered such as blood tests.

Understanding the Difference Between Herpes-1 and Herpes-2

Herpes simplex virus can be contracted in two different types, either orally in the mouth or in the genitals. Herpes simplex 1 (HSV1) often produces painful blisters or sores in the mouth, while herpes simplex 2 (HSV2) produces the same type of blisters and sores except located in the genital region.

The virus is responsible for cold sores and is usually triggered by lack of sleep or stress, but is contracted by person-to-person contact. HSV1 and HSV2 thrive on mucous membranes, such as those found inside the mouth and genital area. The sores can also appear on the throat, nose, mouth, urethra and rectum and in certain cases there will be only one breakout, but most of the time a person will experience more than one breakout.

Outbreaks depend on an individual immune system’s ability to control the infection, how long the person has had their infection and if the infection is in the site it first originated.

According to the American Sexual Health Association, 50 percent of Americans have been infected with herpes simplex 1 (oral herpes, cold sores), while herpes simplex 2 has only been recorded to infect one in eight people between the ages of 14 and 49 in the United States.

What Are Shingles?

Shingles is caused by the herpes varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. When a patient is infected, the chickenpox virus never leaves the body, even after symptoms are completely gone. Instead, the virus stays dormant (inactive) within the nervous system.

When the virus reactivates, it causes uncomfortable and embarrassing shingles.

Symptoms Associated with Shingles

Symptoms first appear to be flu-like, except there is no fever. Instead, blisters and a small rash in the form of a strip or band will appear anywhere on the body but only on one side of the body, along with an itching, tingling pain. It typically develops from the middle of the back towards the chest however, it can also appear on the arms, legs, face and around one eye.

The rash usually lasts about two to four weeks after the pain of the rash first appears. It starts as red blotches and quickly develops into itchy blisters, which may become yellow and dried out. In severe cases, patients can experience scarring that can be treated with certain laser and light therapies. The pain in the affected area tends to last even long after the rash disappears. Patients have reported anywhere from dull pain and tenderness to a burning sensation or even stabbing pains.

It is important to understand that any person who has had chickenpox in the past is susceptible to developing shingles. It is much more common among people over 60 years old because their immune system becomes weaker in old age. People with HIV/AIDS, patients receiving steroids, radiation and chemotherapy can also develop shingles due to their lower immune system.

Treatments Available for Shingles

There is no cure for shingles, but there are treatments that could be effective in reducing the symptoms and easing the pain of the rash. Antiviral medicines are used to reduce the pain and duration of shingles, while pain medicines and topical creams are used to relieve long-term pain.

It is important to see a trained dermatologist with a condition such as shingles in order to get on a fast track to recovery.

Study: Too Few US Adults Being Vaccinated For Shingles

Research presented at the annual Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy suggests that too few American adults have been vaccinated for shingles. Researchers found that less than 20 percent of Americans ages 60 and older have been vaccinated, while the rate is less than half that for those in their 50s.

Shingles is a viral infection that causes painful rashes. The virus, varicella-zoster, is the same virus that causes chickenpox. Since a chickenpox breakout, usually experienced during childhood, the virus lies dormant and inactive in the nerve tissue near your spinal cord and brain. When the shingles virus is reactivated, it can appear anywhere on your body, but most often appears as single strips of blisters that wrap around the sides of your torso.

In order to determine if you have shingles, look for these key symptoms:

  1. Pain, burning, numbness, tingling
  2. Red rash
  3. Fluid-filled blisters that break open and crust over
  4. Itching
  5. Fever, chills, and aches
  6. Headaches
  7. Fatigue

One or all of these symptoms could be an indication of an activated shingle virus, however the most common one is pain and blisters. You are at risk of developing shingles if you are older than the age of 50. Some experts estimate that half of those over the age of 85 have or will experience shingles at some point in their lives. Certain diseases that weaken the immune system can increase risk, along with cancer treatments, medications and the prolonged use of steroids.

Finding Treatment for Herpes-1 and Herpes-2

Both types of herpes are easily transmitted to their site and can be spread to other sites during active outbreaks. Although, herpes simplex 2 is rarely found to cause oral herpes, herpes simplex 1 accounts for a significant portion of genital herpes cases, according to a study conducted at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Dr. Rokhsar works with each patient individually in order to access and cater to their dermatological medical needs. To learn more, contact his clinic and book a consultation today.

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