Herpes is a family of viruses.
Genital herpes is a common and highly contagious infection that usually spreads through sex. This infection is usually caused by the herpes simplex virus-2 (HSV-2). The herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV-1) is the virus usually responsible for cold sores. The name “herpes” comes from the Greek word ‘herpein’, which means, “to creep.”
Herpes is a common STD and a lot of people who have it don’t even know they have it. There is no cure for herpes, but there is a treatment that can lessen symptoms and decrease the likelihood of passing it on to someone else.
Most individuals infected with HSV-1 or HSV-2 experience either no symptoms or have very mild symptoms that go unnoticed or are mistaken for another skin condition. Because of this, most people infected with HSV-2 are not aware of their infection. When symptoms do occur, they typically appear as one or more blisters on or around the genitals, rectum or mouth. The blisters break and leave painful sores that may take two to four weeks to heal. Experiencing these symptoms is sometimes referred to as having an “outbreak.” The first time someone has an outbreak they may also experience flu-like symptoms such as fever, body aches, and swollen glands.
Repeat outbreaks of genital herpes are common, in particular during the first year of infection. Symptoms of repeat outbreaks are typically shorter in duration and less severe than the first outbreak of genital herpes. Although the infection can stay in the body indefinitely, the number of outbreaks tends to decrease over a period of years.
Genital herpes can cause painful genital sores in many adults and can be severe in people with suppressed immune systems. If a person with genital herpes touches their sores or the fluids from the sores, they may transfer herpes to another part of the body. This is particularly problematic if it is a sensitive location such as the eyes. This can be avoided by not touching the sores or fluids. If they are touched, immediate and thorough hand-washing makes the transfer less likely.
Some people who contract genital herpes have concerns about how it will impact their overall health, sex life, and relationships. It is best to talk to a healthcare provider about those concerns, but it also is important to recognize that while herpes is not curable, it is a manageable condition. Since a genital herpes diagnosis may affect perceptions about existing or future sexual relationships, it is important to understand how to talk to sexual partners about STDs.
What are the different types of herpes viruses?
Although there are more than 100 known herpes viruses, only about 8 routinely infect only humans:
Herpes simplex virus type 1: causes cold sores or fever blisters around the mouth or on the face
Herpes simplex virus type 2: is an STD, that causes sores or blisters around the genital area
Varicella-zoster virus: chickenpox
Cytomegalovirus: gastrointestinal upsets, 50%-70% of all adults are infected as well as 50% of all children
Epstein-Barr virus: infects human B-lymphocytes and epithelial cells, responsible for infectious mononucleosis
Human herpesvirus 6 (variants A and B): Roseola infantum, high fever lasting 3-5 days and is followed by a rash on the torso and spreading to the limbs and face
Human herpesvirus 7: infects nearly all children by the age of 3 and is transmitted mainly through saliva.
Sarcoma virus or human herpesvirus 8: manifests as a connective tissue cancer, and has been found in the saliva of many AIDS patients
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