Herpes is caused by the simplex virus and there are two basic types. HSV-2 usually affects genital areas and HSV-1 normally affects the mouth and lips. It enters the body through tiny cuts in the skin or mucous membranes.
People infected with herpes initially experience pain or itching in the infected area 2 to 12 days after exposure.
Anywhere from a few hours to several days after symptoms, sores begin to appear on infected areas. The ulcers begin as small, painful red bumps and become watery blisters within a few days. They may also be present but invisible inside the cervix in women and urethra in men.
Infected persons also may experience flu-like symptoms such as headache and fever in addition to swollen lymph nodes in the groin.
Ulcers eventually scab over and heal.
Diagnosis & Treatment
There is no cure or vaccine for herpes. The virus remains dormant in the infected areas and periodically reactivates, causing symptoms. During the initial outbreak, the antiviral drug, acyclovir taken orally helps speed up healing. The drug also can be taken daily to suppress frequent recurrences. Sores also should be kept clean and dry.
Herpes is contagious during the viral sheading period, which usually occurs prior to and during the presents of the Herpes sore. Infected persons should abstain from sexual contact during these periods. Using a condom during intercourse probably reduces the risk of infection. A monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner is the surest way of avoiding the disease.
In adults, herpes generally does not cause permanent complication besides the sores. Newborn infants can become infected as they pass through the birth canal of mothers with open sores, which can result in brain damage, blindness or death. This infection is more common in infants of mothers who are having their first outbreak of active herpes infection at the time of delivery.