In general, herpes is not considered a very serious affection and can be treated quite easily. An important characteristic of the herpes simplex virus is the fact that once infected, a person remains infected for the rest of life.
After the primary infection, the virus stays dormant until it gets activated with or without a specific trigger, but normally during periods of weakened immune system the herpes simplex virus is most likely to re-activate.
Outbreaks are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Of the eight different known types of the virus, the most common are HSV-1 and HSV-2, which presents in the form of red bumps with fluid-filled blisters, small but painful, localized around the face or genital area.
The virus is transmitted through direct contact with an outbreak or even skin to skin contact since the virus has periods when it can be transmitted even without a present outbreak.
Herpes Labialis (cold sores)
It is caused by the infection with HSV-1 type virus. There is the possibility that at the time of the infection, no outbreak will occur. If there is an outbreak at the time of the infection, it is likely that this first cold sore outbreak will be more severe than any recurring ones. It starts off with a small, bumpy, red area, where the fluid-filled blisters form around the lips and mouth and up to the nostrils. Symptoms are an itching and burning sensation. Cold sore outbreaks are painful and unpleasant. The blisters eventually dry up in a few days, leaving behind a crust which will fall off within a week, leaving behind no traces.
Some common cold sore outbreak triggers are:
– high fever
– exposure to sunlight
– menstrual periods
In general, a person becomes infected by having unprotected sexual contact with a person infected with HSV-2 (genital herpes).
Symptoms appear in about two weeks from the transmission and have a duration of 2-4 weeks. Still, many people infected with HSV-2 can never have an outbreak or have very mild ones which can be confused with insect bites or skin irritation. In general, people with genital herpes have an average of 4-5 outbreaks per year.
With time, the recurrence of herpes outbreaks (both cold sores and genital) decreases.
Treatment of herpes consists of local application of antiviral cream (Acyclovir, Zovirax) and of antiseptics in more extensive outbreaks to prevent further spreading or infection of the virus. In case of more severe outbreaks, the antiviral treatment for herpes can be taken orally, with the dosage and period strictly recommended by the doctor. It is important to remember that the treatment for herpes can shorten the length of an outbreak and relieve its symptoms, but it will not prevent future herpes outbreaks.
What Do We Do When We Have A Herpes Outbreak?
– apply antiviral cream a few times a day on and around the infected area
– cold compresses reduce inflammation (decrease swelling and redness)
– ibuprofen and paracetamol relieve the pain and discomfort
– avoid acidic foods and drinks (citrus, tomatoes)
How Do We Avoid And Prevent Herpes Outbreaks?
Avoid prolonged exposure of the lips in direct sunlight (using a hat or applying chapstick or cream with an UV filter);
Avoiding intimate contact (i.e. kissing) with people who have a genital or labial herpes outbreak;
Avoid sharing towels, cookware, or other objects with a person who has a herpes outbreak.