Herpes is caused by a virus and appears as blisters and sores on the skin or mucous membranes. The virus occurs in two forms. One type often appears on the lips (type 1). The other type appears primarily on the genitals (type 2). The type 2 virus is currently a common cause of genital infections. In fact the infection is very common indeed, and around 75% of all those infected with herpes show no symptoms, although they can still infect others.
How is herpes transmitted?
Both types are transmitted in the same way, via the fluid in the blisters. Close contact such as kissing and intercourse is the most common means of transmission and should be avoided if any blisters break out. Herpes on the lips can be transmitted to the genitals through kissing and genital herpes can be transferred to the lips in the same way (although this is uncommon).
What are the symptoms of herpes?
Herpes starts with a small, itchy patch. Then small fluid-filled blisters develop and rapidly burst, leaving fluid-filled sores. In the event of a first-time infection, a person may also have a fever and tenderness in their lymph nodes. The sores usually appear within two weeks of infection and clear up without treatment after around 3 weeks. Once you have been infected, the infection remains dormant in the body, meaning that it may reoccur at various intervals.
What is the testing procedure?
Sometimes the blisters can be seen with the naked eye. In order to ensure a correct diagnosis, a sample is taken directly from the blister and examined in a laboratory. A blood test can establish whether you are carrying the virus.
How is herpes treated?
There is currently no cure for herpes. However, certain treatment may alleviate the symptoms and reduce the problems caused by the infection. People who suffer frequent, serious outbreaks can prevent these with daily medication. Although the sores clear up by themselves, it is important to keep them clean.
What about my partner?
You can only be infected once in your life and a partner who already has the infection is not affected by an outbreak. In the event of the blisters recurring, the risk of infection is high in the first few days but falls as the sores clear up. Therefore, a condom should be used during intercourse while the sores are healing. It is also important to learn to recognise when a new outbreak is on the way (itching-burning followed by redness, swelling and blistering) in order to avoid intercourse and reduce the risk of transmitting the infection.
What secondary diseases can herpes cause?
A pregnant woman with herpes blisters in the genital area may transfer a life-threatening infection to the newborn baby during birth. This is extremely uncommon, but to avoid the risk some people opt for a Caesarean delivery.
Pregnant women who have recurring herpes should inform their midwife and doctor.