Herpes Simplex is a virus which causes an infection of the skin, most commonly found on the mouth or the genitals. There are two types of the Herpes Simplex virus, HSV-1 causes cold sores and blisters on the lips, around the mouth and on the face, HSV-2 causes genital herpes. Both HSV-1 and HSV-2 can cause problems in other areas of the body, including:
Fingertips - HSV-1 and HSV-2 can be spread to the fingers, this is called Herpetic Whitlow. Children who suck their thumbs may transfer the infection from their mouths to their thumbs.
Eyes - the virus can sometimes cause pinkeye (conjunctivitis). If ulcers develop on the eye itself, it can result in vision problems and even blindness.
Skin – people infected with HSV who also have eczema are at higher risk of herpes spreading all across their bodies, not only extremely painful, it can result in complications and become a medical emergency.
In people with weakened immune systems, the virus can also cause complications as it may affect organs including the lungs, liver and brain.
Herpes Simplex is contagious and can be passed from person to person, even when no symptoms are present. The risk is increased when the infected person is experiencing an outbreak of cold sores or genital herpes. The virus can be spread by simple interactions with someone infected, like drinking from the same glass, using the same fork, or kissing. Genital herpes can be contracted from someone with HSV-2 and also with someone with HSV-1, from oral sexual contact. Anyone can contract herpes if they come into contact with the virus, it does not discriminate by age, gender or social class.
Symptoms of herpes include painful, blistering sores on the lips (cold sores) or genitals (genital herpes). An eruption of sores is often accompanied by flu like symptoms including fever, headache, tiredness, aching limbs and loss of appetite. If the virus infects the eyes it can cause discharge, redness and pain.
The first infection with herpes simplex may result in a single outbreak of cold sores or genital herpes, without any further outbreaks. However, many people experience recurrent outbreaks, often reducing in frequency and intensity over time as the body develops stronger defences to the virus. Outbreaks may eventually stop altogether.
Herpes is diagnosed by physical examination to see if any sores are present and confirmation through HSV testing from as swab from the sores if necessary. Where no visible sores are present herpes may be diagnosed by description of symptoms and a blood test.
There is no cure for herpes, but symptoms can be managed, reduced and outbreaks controlled.