What is the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV)?
By Peter Klapper
Herpes remains one of the most prevalent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). However, the sexual behavioral characteristics of those infected with herpes have not been well characterized. If you have herpes, please be aware you are not alone. It is estimated that over 90% of Americans have herpes. More than 40,000 new cases of herpes are diagnosed each day in America alone that is over 15,000,000 new herpes infections per year! The number of people infected with herpes has reached epidemic proportions. Whether or not you have been diagnosed with the herpes virus, learning about herpes is very important.
Herpes is an infection caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV), which resides in the nerve ganglia after initial exposure to the herpes virus. Because the herpes virus remains dormant in the ganglia, the body is never able to eliminate the herpes virus. What are the different types of herpes? There are several different strains of the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV). However, the most common types of herpes are oral herpes (usually caused by Herpes Simplex Virus 1), and genital herpes (usually caused by Herpes Simplex Virus 2).
Oral herpes infections are often referred to as "cold sores" or "fever blisters" or “canker sores.” Oral herpes (HSV-1) most often occurs on the lips, nose, and the surrounding areas, but can also be transmitted to the genitals through oral sex. Initially, an outbreak may appear as an irritated area. This can be accompanied by burning, itching, or tingling in the region where the herpes sore will eventually appear. In the next phase, the appearance of a sore or cluster of very small fluid filled blisters is usually what occurs next when a herpes outbreak is left untreated.
Genital herpes is usually caused by HSV-2. However, genital herpes is also caused by HSV-1, but is not as common. If you have been diagnosed with genital herpes, the herpes virus remains dormant in your system when you are not experiencing a genital herpes outbreak. During this time, genital herpes resides in the nerve cells at the base of the spinal column.
What is genital herpes?
The genital herpes virus is highly contagious. Anyone experiencing symptoms of an outbreak must be very cautious when being intimate with another person, abstinence is recommended as this is the best method to avoid transmission of the herpes virus. If the virus has been transmitted, the infection is permanent. If a person has oral herpes (cold sores), and performs oral sex on his/her partner, it is possible for that person to transmit the virus to the genitals from this action, and vice versa. The symptoms of oral herpes and genital herpes are almost identical.
When a person with herpes is not experiencing an outbreak, the herpes virus remains dormant in the system at either end of the spinal column. Genital herpes resides in the nerve cells at the base of the spinal column. Oral herpes infects the nerves at the top of the spinal column and base of the brain. The herpes virus is very distinct. An outbreak starts with one or a few small blisters. Without treatment, the blisters generally last several days and then form scabs indicating the end of the outbreak. Recent studies indicate that people with herpes may be contagious at any time even without visible signs of an outbreak (estimated at 1-5% of the time). This is symptom is called “viral shedding.”
How are cold sores related?
Ninety percent of all people will have at least one cold sore, (herpes simplex outbreak) sometime in their life. Some children who are affected with cold sores may become seriously ill. However, after the first cold sore infection, many people develop antibodies to the cold sore virus and never have another cold sore. About 40% of American adults, however, have repeated cold sores.
Cold sores are highly contagious when a flare up is present, and a cold sore can be transmitted even when there are no visible signs of a cold sore, this is called viral shedding. Children often become infected with the cold sore virus by contact with parents, siblings or other close relatives who have cold sores. Anyone experiencing symptoms of must be very cautious when being intimate with another person so as not to transmit the cold sore virus. Those who have symptoms of a cold sore should refrain from contact with another person to help avoid transmission of cold sores. If the cold sore virus has been transmitted, the infection is permanent. Cold sores can be either a onetime event or reoccur. Possible causes of a cold sore reactivating may include stress, fever, menstruation, cold, fatigue and sunlight. Recurrent cold sores usually occur as lesions in or around the mouth.
- Forces of Nature