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Herpes is a viral infection that causes a rash on the skin or mucous membranes of the body. The most common form of herpes, occurring at some point in the lives of nearly ninety percent of the United States population, is the “cold sore” or “fever blister” on the lip or side of the mouth. Less common, although still very prevalent, are infections on or around the genitals. Herpes of the face is caused by the herpes simplex virus type I (HSV I); herpes of the genitals by herpes simplex type II (HSV II). Strictly speaking, the type I version of the virus can show up on the genitals and type II on the face, or, for that matter, either of them can infect any part of the body. While the specific virus types causing facial or genital herpes can be distinguished biologically, for all intents and purposes the effect on your body is the same. Only the location is different.

Herpes Transmission

Herpes I or II is originally contracted by direct physical contact with an infected sore on another person. Facial or lip herpes is most often transmitted by kissing someone with a cold sore. Children often contract herpes infections on the mouth, face or eyes from a well-meant, well-placed, but highly virulent kiss from someone with an active cold sore. Genital herpes is most often contracted during sexual intercourse with a person who has an ‘active genital infection. For this reason, herpes is called a venereal disease, or, more correctly, a sexually transmitted disease.

The important things to remember are that transmission can occur only when the virus comes in direct contact with mucous membranes or with abrasions in the skin, and that the part of the body contacting the virus is the part that will become infected. In other words, the infection will be very localized. Some people develop “whitlow,” or herpes on the finger, contracted by touching herpetic sores with their hand.

Wrestlers and rugby players sometimes acquire infections on the neck, arms, or other areas, called appropriately enough “herpes gladiatorum.”

Because the virus is transmitted by direct physical contact, it is possible to transfer the virus to another part of the body by self-inoculation touching an active sore and passing on the virus. While this is not very common, the fingers and eyes are particularly vulnerable to self-transfer especially during a “primary” (first-time) infection, as opposed to a “recurrence,” which is, as it sounds, a reactivation of the original infection.

One never “just develops” herpes. Although an infection may seem to have appeared out of the blue, it was transmitted either from another person or by self-transfer.

Sometimes people who contract herpes are puzzled as to how it could have happened: A genital infection shows up apparently from nowhere, with neither sexual partner aware of a history of herpes or of intimate contact with someone with herpes. As you can imagine, this situation can cause a good deal of frustration and difficulty between the partners.

There are two explanations for what happened. The first deals with the transmittal of the virus. Genital infections can often be traced back to a cold sore virus in one partner A , who transmitted the virus during oral sex or by fondling partner B, after touching the sore with a hand. Partner B can then pass the virus back to Partner A during intercourse. According to the figures available from studies of HSV I infections, somewhere between 10 to 16 percent of genital infections are most likely contracted in this way.

The second explanation deals with the relative severity of infection in a person carrying herpes. After contact with herpes sores, a person may not show enough, or may not be sufficiently disturbed by, evident body symptoms to realize he or she has contracted an infection.

This is called a subclinical infection. No obvious symptoms may show for a long time and possibly will never surface but the virus is in fact in the person’s body. However, under particular circumstances, which shall be examined in more detail in chapters 4, 8, and 9, a surface rash may appear, apparently from some mysterious source. Transmission to a partner then can occur. The appearance of the rash in this way is technically called a recurrence since the primary infection actually occurred some time previously. Why this might occur will be clear from the next section on the symptoms and course of herpes infections.

Points to Remember

Herpes is a viral infection that causes a rash on the body. Herpes is highly contagious when on the surface of the body and is spread by direct physical contact, whether sexual or otherwise. The two viruses causing herpes (herpes simplex virus type I and herpes simplex virus type II) cannot be picked up just by proximity to someone who has an infection. The viruses gain access to the body through mucous membranes or through abrasions in the skin. Learn about herpes and sexually transmitted diseases.

Symptoms and Cause of Herpes Infections

A genital herpes infection generally will show from two to twenty days after contact has taken place. The rash that occurs is fairly easily identified by a trained physician. Avoid self-diagnosis! Consulting a friend isn’t a good idea (unless your friend urges you to seek proper diagnosis). You may be convinced you have herpes when in fact you have something else. There are other important reasons why self- diagnosis is not a good idea.

The infection shows as a rash of red patches with white blister-like sores, usually in clusters. Genital herpes will usually make an appearance on or around the penis in men and the vagina in women. Internal lesions from primary infections can also occur in the mouth, vagina, cervix, or anus, or anywhere on the body where the virus first entered.

The rash is often accompanied by one or all of the following: pain and discomfort in the area of the infection, fever, headache. Pain or burning when urinating is common with genital herpes, as are swollen glands in the groin.

Women may notice a mild vaginal discharge. The severity of the individual symptoms, or episode, depends on several factors, which include the virus load (how much virus one is inoculated with), one’s constitution, and one’s general physical health when the infection begins. The range of distress is very broad, from a subclinical infection that is probably very common, where nothing or very little may be noticed, on up to a severe and prolonged illness. Indeed, some cases may be so severe that the rash covers the entire genital area, and the patient is ill enough and uncomfortable enough to require hospitalization. Fortunately, such an episode is a reaction only to a primary infection. The time from the initial appearance of the rash until the area heals over with new cells is, in most cases, only two to three weeks. It should be emphasized that the symptoms from a primary infection will invariably be far more severe than those of any future episode.

Viruses need the resources of body cells to survive and reproduce. When the herpes virus first enters the body, it reproduces pretty freely in the surface cells. It can spread itself out across neighboring areas with the help of moisture and friction (which is why, as you will see, a herpes sufferer is told to keep the area dry and not to rub).

Unless you have already been exposed to a particular virus, your body is essentially defenseless for a time in preventing it from having a field day if it enters your body. It takes time for your body to mount defenses in the form of antibodies to attack and kill the virus and the cells invaded by it. If you are reasonably healthy, this process will occur quite efficiently. But if you are run down and your body resources somewhat depleted, the job will be more difficult. Once formed, specific antibodies will be present in the system from this time on. But first time around, the virus has free play for a while. Learn about herpes treatments | http://thongchaimedical.org