Find tips on how to manage herpes outbreaks.
Herpes is a general term that refers to two different diseases: The first is caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and is generally found around the mouth, and the second is caused by herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2), with outbreaks on and around the genitals. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, reports that about 20 percent of adults and adolescents have had HSV-2 - approximately 45 million Americans.
Herpes is a viral infection that can be spread to others through sexual (HSV-2) and oral (HSV-1) contact. The herpes simplex virus type 1 causes cold sores or fever blisters on the mouth, lips and gums. The blisters typically last seven to 10 days and are often heralded by a tingling or itching sensation a day or two before the lesions develop. HSV-1 is a lifelong illness, with an ongoing possibility of recurrent symptoms.
The herpes simplex virus type 2 (genital herpes) causes eruptions of blisters in the genital area - including the anus and inner thighs - and on the genitals themselves. Genital lesions usually last from seven to 14 days and may be accompanied by swollen lymph nodes in the genital area. Like HSV-1, HSV-2 will remain in the body's nerve system for life. People with the virus may never experience another outbreak, or they may undergo almost continuous symptoms due to quickly recurring outbreaks.
Both types of herpes usually manifest in a primary episode, within two weeks of initial exposure. This first outbreak is often accompanied by fever and other flulike symptoms. According to the CDC, following the primary episode, there may be four to five symptomatic recurrences in the first year, with frequency tapering off over time.
Currently, there is no known cure for either type of herpes simplex virus. Managing a disease as unpredictable as herpes can be quite difficult. It involves learning to recognize the signs of impending outbreaks, keeping the immune system strong and healthy, and minimizing risk of spreading infection.
For most people with herpes (either type), there are symptoms that signal the onset of an outbreak, including burning, itching, tingling, skin sensitivity and/or pain at the site of infection. Learn what your particular symptoms feel like.
Also, be aware of events that are likely to trigger episodes, including menstruation, stress, illness and fatigue. If you are experiencing a triggering event, pay special attention to your infected area for the first signs of an outbreak. Prompt treatment with antiviral medications can shorten the duration of an episode.
A weakened immune system may make the body more susceptible to herpes outbreaks. Try to exercise, eat healthy foods in controlled portions and get enough sleep. For exercise and nutrition recommendations from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, download Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005.
The best way to prevent spreading genital herpes is to abstain from sexual contact during a symptomatic episode. It's prudent to use a latex condom during all other sexual activity, even when no sores are present, although condoms cannot protect against herpes sores that are outside of areas covered by the condom. For HSV-1, prevent cold sores from direct contact with other people or commonly shared items.
Special care must be taken by pregnant women to prevent the transmission of herpes to the baby during childbirth. Birth-acquired herpes is a potentially fatal disease. Learn about the steps you should take to keep your baby safe at MedlinePlus.
Herpes is a lifelong condition, and outbreaks can be embarrassing, painful and annoying. But as long as you take steps to manage your disease, you can lead a normal life with relatively few outbreaks.