By age thirty, 50 to 80 percent of all adults would have come into contact with the herpes virus. Nearly 80 percent of those with herpes have no symptoms at all (asymptomatic), so many who contract the disease do not know that they are infected. Those with symptoms may suffer from weight loss, fever, swelling of lymph nodes and outbreaks of blisters and sores (symptomatic).
Herpes can only be spread when the virus is active on the surface of the skin and mucous membranes. HSV can be active when sores and blisters are present (symptomatic person) or when symptoms are not present (asymptomatic person). The herpes virus can also be spread during the prodromal phase where warning symptoms such as tingling and itching are experienced.
Herpes is only contracted through direct skin to skin contact during:
- Sexual activity (virginal, oral or anal)
- Touching and caressing of the infected areas
- Mother to baby during pregnancy or at birth
The virus enters the body through breaks in the skin or mucous membranes. Herpes is not spread through vaginal fluids, saliva, blood or semen, although it may be present in these bodily fluids when the virus is shedding (active). Sexual and other forms of contact can only be performed when the virus is dormant (inactive). Please note, however, that there are still risks of infection even during this time. Using condoms during the dormant periods and OTC or natural medicines to reduce the outbreaks and viral shedding can help to decrease the risk of spreading HSV to a partner.
Symptomatic or Asymptomatic
It is possible for the herpes virus to invade and reproduce in the nervous system. In an asymptomatic person, HSV can live dormant in the body for months or years before being triggered by stress, illness and other factors. Then again, in a symptomatic person the herpes simplex virus can produce active infections for a long time after first being exposed. The majority of people with genital herpes are asymptomatic, meaning that they are the carriers of herpes and can easily spread the virus without even knowing. The only way to know if one has herpes is to go for an annual blood test, where they will test for HSV antibodies and other STD’s. In both symptomatic and asymptomatic persons, the episodes of outbreaks, symptoms and shedding will decrease with time but will never go away entirely. There is no cure for herpes.
Types of Herpes
There is genital herpes, the infection that causes sores to form in the genital area, and oral herpes that can be seen on the mouth and lips as well as sores on the face.
Often seen in young children, herpes simplex virus-type 1 can be spread through kissing, especially if sores are visible on the lips. There are three variations of oral herpes. These commonly produce sores in the mouth and on the lips, the tonsils and the face. Herpes simplex virus-type 2 is spread by sexual contact and sores are produced in the genital area. If someone with type 1 has oral sex with an uninfected person, there is a significant risk that they will be infected and suffer symptoms of genital herpes.
Additional Facts about Herpes
Herpes is an incurable disease. Only treatment can be given to suppress the frequency and severity of the outbreaks that an individual suffers with. The virus can remain dormant for a long time before it is ever known that the person is infected with herpes. This is why many never know that they have the virus. Outbreaks can be triggered by many factors, and once a person learns these triggers they can help to control their own outbreaks.
Those with herpes should be extremely careful not to spread the virus. They should never have sex during an outbreak and always use latex condoms. Individuals with herpes should remain in a monogamous relationship. Spermicidal creams may help to kill the virus and can be used to add protection during sex. Those with herpes should be open and honest with their partners about the virus. Before the infected individual can discuss herpes with their partner, they should be well-informed, in order, to answer all questions correctly.
Anyone with herpes can get support from medical professionals. There are various types of support in groups, counseling or online chat groups centered on those with herpes. Herpes has a stigma surrounding the diagnosis that may be terribly difficult to handle alone. Seeking help for the emotional and physical issues that accompany herpes is the best way to heal and lead a normal and healthy life once again.