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Herpes Simplex

Herpes Simplex Signs and Symptoms

For oral herpes (HSV-1), often signs or symptoms never occur for many people. But if an outbreak does happen, it can cause:

  • Burning, itching or tingling skin
  • Cold sores or fever blisters around the lips, mouth, tongue and elsewhere
  • Flu-like symptoms such as fever and muscle pain

Likewise for genital herpes (HSV-2), many people infected often don’t show any symptoms. But if signs do show, they can include:

  • Painful sores on the vagina, penis or buttocks
  • Itching or a minor rash
  • Burning while urinating
  • Flu-like symptoms such as fever and muscle pain

Also, sores may develop between two and 20 days after sexual contact with an infected person or the virus may remain dormant without causing an outbreak for months or years. Sores typically heal within two to six weeks.

How Do I Get Herpes Simplex?

These viruses are extremely contagious and spread easily. In the United States, more than 57% of people are infected with HSV-1 (oral herpes) and more than 16% are infected with HSV-2 (genital herpes). Most people get HSV-1 from kissing, sharing utensils or other skin-to-skin contact with infected individuals. This can also be spread from sharing lip balm or razors. HSV-2 typically spreads from sexual contact or intercourse. 

Pregnant women should tell their doctor if she or her partner has genital herpes. Otherwise, giving birth while having genital herpes can spread the virus to the baby. Precautions taken before birth can prevent this. Infected people can also spread the virus to unaffected parts of their body by touching a herpes sore and immediately touching unaffected skin. Even if someone doesn’t have sores, they can still spread the virus.

How Do I Prevent the Spread of Herpes Simplex?

If you’re infected with oral herpes:

  • Avoid kissing, oral contact and sharing eating utensils with others.
  • If you have itching, burning or tenderness in an area with herpes sores, don’t touch it or touch others with it.

If you’re infected with genital herpes:

  • Avoid sexual contact with others if you have sores or symptoms.
  • Condoms can help reduce the spread of the virus. But even if wearing a condom, it’s possible to spread the virus if it lies on nearby skin that a condom doesn’t cover.
  • If you have frequent outbreaks, taking antiviral drugs daily can prevent most outbreaks and reduce spread of the virus to others.

Prevalence of Outbreaks

Once you’re infected with herpes simplex, it never leaves your body, and the first outbreak is usually the worst. Since your body doesn’t have antibodies to fight the virus yet, symptoms tend to be more severe at first. Then once you develop more antibodies, they’re milder. Outbreaks can be either severe or not even noticeable for some. After the first outbreak, the virus moves into the nerve cells and remains dormant. Some never have another outbreak, while some mild outbreaks and others have more severe outbreaks. Recurrences can also be triggered by stress, fever, illness, sun exposure, menstruation or even surgery. 

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