Herpes is the name of the virus that results in the skin infection. There are two types of herpes simplex virus: type 1 (HSV-1) and type 2 (HSV-2). Herpes simplex virus type 1 leads to the development of small and usually painful blisters on the skin of the lips, mouth, gums, or lip area. These blisters are commonly called cold sores or fever blisters.
Herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV2) is more commonly associated with genital herpes, although it can also infect non-genital areas. This is a form of sexually transmitted disease (STD).
Oral Herpes type 1 (HSV-1)
The initial oral herpes (type 1) infection may or may not cause symptoms or mouth ulcers. The virus remains in the nerve tissue of the face. In some people, the virus reactivates and produces recurrent cold sores that are usually in the same area but are not serious.
Herpes viruses are contagious. Contact may occur directly, or through contact with infected razors, towels, dishes, and other shared articles. Occasionally, oral-to-genital contact may spread oral herpes to the genitals (and vice versa). For this reason, people with active herpes lesions on or around the mouths or on the genitals should avoid oral sex.
Genital Herpes type 2 (HSV-2).
Generally, a person can become infected with herpes during sexual contact with someone who has had genital herpes. The herpes virus is released from the herpes sores on the skin. Unfortunately, the herpes virus may be released from the skin even if there is no visible herpes lesion. This means that a person who has had genital herpes can infect his or her partner even if there is no visible sore. The virus can be transmitted even by those who do not know that they are infected.
The Signs of Herpes
When signs of herpes do occur, they typically appear as one or more blisters on or around the genitals or rectum. The blisters break, leaving tender ulcers (sores) that may take two to four weeks to heal the first time they occur. Typically, another outbreak can appear weeks or months after the first, but it almost always is less severe and shorter than the first outbreak. Although the infection can stay in the body indefinitely, the number of outbreaks tends to decrease over a period of years.
Treating Herpes Outbreaks
There is no cure for herpes. However, 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.
The surest way to avoid transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, including genital herpes, is to abstain from sexual contact or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and is known to be uninfected.
Genital ulcer diseases can occur in both male and female genital areas that are covered or protected by a latex condom, as well as in areas that are not covered. Correct and consistent use of latex condoms can reduce the risk of genital herpes. People with herpes should abstain from sexual activity with uninfected partners when lesions or other symptoms of herpes are present. It is important to remember that even if a person does not have any symptoms he or she can still infect sex partners! Sex partners of infected persons need to know that they may become infected and they should use condoms to reduce this risk.