What is it?
Herpes is a sore or blister caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types of HSV. Type 1 is usually found around the mouth and is commonly known as cold sores. Type 2 is usually found around the penis or anus areas.
How do you get it?
Herpes is transmitted both sexually and non-sexually during skin-to-skin contact such as direct contact with a sore on the mouth, penis or anus.
The herpes virus is most easily passed on when there are sores or blisters present but can also be passed on when there are no obvious symptoms.
Once you have HSV it stays in your body for the rest of your life. Every now and then you may have a recurrence and this can happen when your immune system is lowered. Recurrences may not be as severe as the first infection because your body has produced antibodies to help fight the infection.
What are the symptoms or signs?
There may be no symptoms however herpes usually starts with tingling, itching, burning or pain followed by the appearance of painful red spots which then form blisters. These blisters then form scabs. However, blisters do not always occur. You may also experience flu-like symptoms. If symptoms occur they generally show up between two and seven days after you have been exposed to the virus, but it may take much longer.
If you have blisters or sores a medical practitioner can take a swab otherwise you will have blood test.
How is it treated?
There is no cure, but there are treatments that can reduce symptoms and speed up the recovery. The frequency of outbreaks varies from person to person, but outbreaks may become less frequent and in time may stop altogether.
How can it be prevented?
Condoms can reduce the risk of transmission but do not always cover the infected area. The virus may be present on the testicles, rectum area or thighs. Avoiding sexual contact if you or your partner has visible blisters or sores will prevent the transmission of herpes. Anti-viral medication can reduce the risk of transmission by reducing asymptomatic shedding and recurrences. Shedding is a term for the herpes virus being released from the surface of the skin. Asymptomatic shedding is when the virus is being released and there are no visible symptoms or signs.
If you are HIV-negative, an occurrence of herpes makes you more vulnerable to HIV infection.
Herpes (HSV) HIV
If you are HIV-positive and you also have herpes you may experience recurrent genital HSV flare-ups that are more serious than in people not infected with HIV.
Herpes may also increase the replication of HIV and therefore raise viral load. If you are HIV-positive it is possible to control herpes effectively but the severity and frequency of outbreaks of anal and genital herpes may increase as the immune system is weakened