Herpes is a contagious sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by the herpes virus called the herpes simplex virus (HSV). HSV is categorized into two types: herpes type 1 and type 2. Symptoms of the herpes virus depend on where the infection occurs are described below.
What causes herpes?
Herpes simplex virus (HSV) type 1 causes genital herpes, the symptoms of which appear on and around the genitals. HSV type 2 causes oral herpes, the symptoms of which present in and around the oral cavity. This is a very contagious viral infection.
Genital herpes is transmitted during sexual intercourse (vaginal or anal). Oral herpes is transmitted during oral sex and kissing.
It is more likely for an infected male partner to pass on this genital infection to his female partner than from an infected female to a male. You can get herpes even if your partner does not have symptoms of herpes.
Herpes has no permanent cure but certain remedies do help in curbing the symptoms when they occur.
Factors that trigger genital herpes symptoms
- Poor nutrition results in poor immunity
- Exposure to sunlight
- Stress – emotional and/or physical
- Medication with steroids
- Sexual intercourse
- Any other illness that lowers body immunity such as AIDS.
The initial herpes signs and symptoms of herpes infection are more severe while the subsequent recurring herpes symptoms tend to be mild.
Rarely, the initial infection of herpes may be missed due to its mild onset of the symptoms and the subsequent recurrence or outbreaks may be mistaken for the first presentation of herpes. This can give rise to a serious misunderstanding with your new partner.
Symptoms of genital herpes
If you do develop symptoms, they may present differently depending on whether you’re having them for the first time (called primary herpes) or whether it is a recurrent outbreak.
Recurring outbreaks are usually mild and do not last long. However, the frequency of the outbreaks differs in different people. Some people may only have one or two recurrences during their lifetime, while others may have as many as four or five outbreaks a year.
- Small painful blisters or sores appear on the infected area. These are filled with clear yellowish fluid. These blisters burst and the vesicles fall off revealing healthy skin below. These sores heal with a scab, which is characteristic of herpes.
- These sores appear 2 to 21 days after a person has been infected and the infection can last for one week to 10days.
- There is burning and Itching at the infected site.
- In male genital herpes, the inner or outer surface of the prepuce of the penis and the glans are infected.
- In genital herpes in women, the herpes infection occurs on the external genitalia, the mucous membrane of the vagina, and the cervix. Sores and blisters are also seen around the anus if anal sex has been resorted to with an infected person.
- There may a burning sensation while passing urine in both sexes.
- Accompanying symptoms of flu-like fever and headache may be present.
Genital herpes symptoms typically keep recurring about 4 to 6 times a year. In between infection attacks, the herpes virus stays dormant in the sensory nerve endings of the sacral nerve (which originates from the spinal cord) throughout life.
The outbreak of herpes infection occurs due to certain factors that can trigger them. Symptoms of recurrent outbreaks may, in addition, may include:
- Itching or burning at the site of the infection
- Pain in the buttocks, lower back, or thighs
- Genital blisters or open sores
Symptoms of oral or mouth herpes
Oral herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1. The areas which can get infected in oral herpes are the mouth, lips and the gums, and the area around the mouth.
- Redness, swelling, pain, or itching may develop at the site of infection.
- Fluid-filled blisters may appear on the lips or under the nose and are painful.
- The fluid in the blisters will leak and form sores.
- After about four to six days, the sores will start to crust and heal.
Symptoms of ocular or eye herpes
About 4,00,000 people in the U.S. have ocular herpes and about 50,000 are being added to this figure each year – that is about 5 every hour.
This herpes is caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 and occurs as a result of close contact with an infected person or by self-contamination caused by rubbing your eyes with unwashed hands.
The symptoms of ocular herpes include:
- inflammation of the conjunctiva (conjunctivitis) and the cornea of the eyes (keratitis)
- There may be sores seen on the eyelids and around the eyes.
Recurrent herpes infection outbreaks
Once infected, there is the frequent recurrence of the genital herpes infection at intervals of days or weeks. The subsequent infections are not as severe as the first ones.
Sometimes, the first infection shows minor symptoms, which you may miss and the subsequent infection may be severe. This repeated infection of genital herpes can affect the psychology of the person who is infected because it recurs even if you have not had sex.
In spite of taking treatment during the infection, this frequent recurrence of herpes, without apparent cause, frightens and worries the person and he/she feels hopeless. He/she wonders why the infection won’t stop coming. It recurs 4 to 6 times a year or even more, depending on the immunity of the person and the virulence of the herpes virus.
He can have sex during the infection but should not, because it will infect his partner. Secondly, the already present infection will flare up.
However, there are certain steps he can and should take which will help him fight this infection. Read How to Prevent recurrent herpes infection.
After a few years, the infected person will stay asymptomatic, that is, he may not have any herpes symptoms but he can still be infective and spread the infection. The herpes virus continues to reside in the sensory nerves throughout his/her life.