Herpes - Cure and Treatment


Even though almost everyone has heard of herpes, what many don’t know that herpes is actually a group of infections, caused by various types of the herpes virus. As of now there is no complete cure for herpes and treatment depends upon alleviating symptoms of the particular infection and preventing its transmission.

Of the numerous types of herpes virus, one of the most powerful of which is HSV or the Herpes Simplex Virus which in turn has two important strains, the HSV 1 or HSV2. The two between them can affect various parts of the body like mouth, genitals, eyes, fingers, brain and just about any part of the skin in which case the infection is known respectively as cold sores, genital herpes, herpes keratitis, herpes whitlow, herpes encephalitis and eczema herpeticum. Even newborn babies can get herpes from the mother which is known as neonatal herpes. Infections like chicken pox and shingles known as herpes zoster are also caused by other members of the herpes family of viruses. Treatment depends upon the kind of herpes virus which has caused the infection.

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The Herpes Simples Virus 1 usually affects the mouth, lips and gums in a human and is thus responsible for large majority of oral herpes cases. The infection appears as blisters or sores in the oral area. While the HSV-2 can also cause oral herpes, the incidence is relatively lesser, especially among the adult population. however studies have found that in adolescents, up to 40% of genital herpes is caused by HSV-1 because of reportedly increased oral/genital contact. Cold sores in and around the mouth usually clear up within a week or so. treatment when advised by a medical practitioner includes:

  1. Over-the-counter painkillers like paracetamol or ibuprofen in order to ease any pain or irritation caused by the sores or blisters.
  2. Over-the-counter cold sore creams which can lessen the severity of outbreak if applied at the first signs like tingling or burning sensation around the lips. Once the sores develop, the creams can provide relief from the skin discomfort.
  3. Anti-viral tablets if the infection is particularly severe or frequent.

Besides the above the doctor usually advises the patient to drink enough fluids so that dehydration does not occur and this is particularly important in young children. In case of foods, one should stick to cool and soft foods which will not irritate the skin. For the same reason it is best to avoid salty, acidic or spicy foods. All-round treatment of oral herpes also includes following measures to prevent its transmission like avoiding touching the sores, sexual contact with uninfected partners and sharing of personal items like towels, razors, cosmetics and cutlery.

According to the US government’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, genital herpes is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases in the country. Across the nation, 16.2%, or about one out of six people from 14 to 49 years of age have genital herpes caused by infection by HSV-2 1. Sometimes however HSV-1 can cause genital herpes, even though it is more commonly associated with oral herpes. When HSV-1 virus does cause infection of the genitals, it does so by oral-genital or genital-genital contact with a person who has HSV-1 infection. On the whole however, genital HSV-1 outbreaks recur less regularly than genital HSV-2 outbreaks. Genital herpes causes blisters or groups of small ulcers (open sores) on and around the genitals in both men and women.Treatment for genital herpes includes taking painkillers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen if the sores are painful as well as antiviral drugs if the outbreak is particularly severe. Apart from shortening the duration of the outbreak, antiviral drugs like Acyclovir, famciclovir, and valacyclovir lower the chance that the infection will come back and makes any later outbreaks less severe. A few individuals who are prone to repeated genital herpes infections may be put on a long term anti-viral drug regime for continuous prevention. This is also known as suppressive therapy and involves taking medications everyday. Also the patient should avoid using anti-bacterial or perfumed soaps, deodorants, cosmetic products or female douches over the infected areas. Wearing cool, loose-fitting clothes will cause less irritation and discomfort.

Certain types of herpes virus can also affect the eyes. When herpes of the eye is caused by herpes simplex virus, it is known as herpes simplex keratitis whereas when it is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, it is known as herpes zoster opthalmicus. The symptoms for both may range from pain in and around only one eye and redness, rash or sores on the eyelids to redness of the eye, swelling and cloudiness of the cornea. Treatment for herpes of the eye involves using eye-drops to ease symptoms like pain, burning and irritation. If the infection is particularly severe, the doctor may prescribe antiviral medication. If the cornea is affected, sometimes corticosteroids are also prescribed which however have side-effects like disturbing blood pressure. Another type of eye drop might also be prescribed to keep the pupil dilated. This will help the eye's natural fluids flow, which prevents the pressure from increasing.

A third type of Herpes virus known as zoster-varicella virus causes infections like chicken-pox and shingles. Usually they subside on their own but when the blisters and eruptions lead to a lot of pain, burning and itching, symptomatic treatments may include pain-killers, soothing lotions like calamine, anti-histamines and in severe cases anti-viral drugs.

Another group of herpes viruses specifically types 4 and 5 cause an infection known as mononucleosis. This occurs as fever, sore throat and enlarged lymph nodes. This is usually self-limiting and treatment includes over-the-counter medication in order to ease symptoms. The human herpes virus types 6 and 7 are usually associated with infections like roseola. The symptoms of this infection varies according to age but is mostly characterized by fever, rash and other flu-like symptoms. Since the disease is again self-limiting treatment is restricted to easing fever or other discomforts. The HHV 8 has been recently discovered in the tumors called Kaposi's Sarcoma (KS) which are usually found in people with AIDS but are otherwise very rare. Treatment for KS ranges from radiation, chemotherapy, immunosuppressive therapy to surgery.

In recent time a lot of research has been going on in development of vaccines to treat various kinds of herpes infections. According to the CDC, there is a vaccine for shingles known as Zostavax which is recommended for people above 60 years. Vaccines for Herpes Simplex Virus are still in the trial stage but researchers are hopeful that one can be developed in near future.