Herpes Causes And Risk Factors
Causes of herpes include acquiring the virus through sexual contact, coupled with immune system suppression and sometimes nutritional deficiencies.
HSV-1 is primarily transmitted by oral-oral contact. On the other hand, HSV-2 is considered a sexually transmitted disease and usually passed during oral or vaginal sex.
A scary finding is that more cases of genital herpes than ever before are now being caused by HSV-1 , and about 85 percent of people with genital herpes dont even know it. Studies show that about 50 percent of the new genital herpes infections in young adults are due to HSV-1 and about 40 percent in older adults. The fact that most people dont ever find out theyre infected is one of the reasons that transmission rates are steadily climbing.
Risk factors for acquiring herpes include:
How Common Is Genital Herpes
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 40 million to 50 million adults in the United States have genital herpes. HSV II infection is more common in women and in people who have had more than five sexual partners. Most people with HSV II do not know they have it, because it does not always cause symptoms.
Can You Test For Herpes At Home
Yes, there are at-home sexually transmitted infection tests for herpes.
Read more about at-home herpes tests here.
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What Are The Signs Of Herpes In Pregnant Women
If you are pregnant and have genital herpes, there may be a risk of your baby being infected with the virus during delivery. This condition is called neonatal herpes and can be serious or fatal.
Neonatal herpes can result in damage to the central nervous system and can cause mental retardation. Only about 0.1% of babies born in the United States are infected with neonatal herpes even though about 25% to 30% of pregnant women have genital herpes.
Generally, if you are infected with herpes, your doctor will deliver your baby by cesarean section to avoid any risk to your newborn infant.
Women who have herpes before becoming pregnant are at very low risk of transmitting the herpes virus to their babies. If a woman is infected with the herpes virus after becoming pregnant, her baby faces a higher risk of contracting neonatal herpes. Women who are newly infected havent had time to develop the antibodies against the virus and cannot pass them on to the baby for protection.
Talk with your OB/GYN and let them know if you have genital herpes. At the time of your delivery, ask your doctor to examine you early in labor to make sure you dont have any sores or signs of infection like pain, tingling, or itching.
What Are The Signs Of Herpes In Men
In about two-thirds of cases, men will have no symptoms of herpes. Symptoms of herpes in men may include:
It is unclear if genital herpes affects fertility in men because it affects such a large part of the population. However, a recent study found that herpes may lower the sperm count in men and may have an effect on mens ability to get pregnant with a partner.
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What Are The Symptoms Of Genital Herpes
Most individuals infected with HSV are asymptomatic or have very mild symptoms that go unnoticed or are mistaken for another skin condition. 9 When symptoms do occur, herpes lesions typically appear as one or more vesicles, or small blisters, on or around the genitals, rectum or mouth. The average incubation period for an initial herpes infection is 4 days after exposure. 10 The vesicles break and leave painful ulcers that may take two to four weeks to heal after the initial herpes infection. 5,10 Experiencing these symptoms is referred to as having a first herpes outbreak or episode.
When To Call The Doctor
Even though HSV sores can hurt and be unsightly, most cases of herpes do not cause serious illness. The sores go away in a few days. Contact the health provider if:
- Sores are present and you think it might be a first herpes infection. The diagnosis is usually made by examining the sores. If the sores have not healed, sometimes a laboratory test is done.
- Sores do not heal by themselves or show signs of infection such as pus, spreading redness or fever.
- Sores are near the eyes.
- You have another health condition with a weakened immune system.
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Signs And Symptoms Of Herpes
Both kinds of herpes cause outbreaks of painful sores on the skin. Symptoms of herpes include:
Oral herpes sores
Genital herpes sores
The sores that appear in the genital area can come from HSV-1 or HSV-2. Like the sores on the mouth, they start as painful blisters, then dry up and heal over time.
Although they usually show up around the mouth or genitals, herpes sores can appear anywhere on the body.
Not all people who have herpes have frequent outbreaks. Some people might have a single outbreak then never show symptoms again. The virus may stay dormant in their body.
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What Are The Symptoms Of Herpes Simplex
Many people with the infection never experience any herpes symptoms. If you do notice symptoms, youll experience them differently depending on whether youre having your first herpes outbreak or a repeat outbreak. Recurring symptoms are usually milder than the first outbreak. Symptoms dont last as long with later outbreaks. Some people may only have one or two outbreaks during their lifetime. Others may have as many as four or five outbreaks a year.
People who do have herpes symptoms may experience:
- Cold sores around their lips, mouth or tongue. They may look crusty or like fluid-filled blisters.
- Tingling, itching or burning.
- Pain while urinating.
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Is There A Cure For Herpes
There is no cure for herpes, but the virus tends to cause the most symptoms during the first few years. After that, while herpes does not go away entirely, it usually causes mild to no symptoms.
When the virus is active, people can take medications to help reduce and prevent symptoms. Antiviral medicines may be prescribed to help reduce symptoms of genital herpes or oral herpes and speed up the healing of an outbreak, such as:
Is That Spot A Pimple Or A Cold Sore
Acne is the most common skin condition in teens and young adults in the United States, and its increasingly common among women in their thirties, forties, and fifties. It can cause a range of blemishes variously known as blackheads, whiteheads, papules, pustules , cysts, and nodules, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.
Acne is sometimes confused with oral herpes because of the way a breakout looks. Although oral herpes sores usually appear as small, clear blisters filled with fluid, in some instances they can look more like the reddened skin and pimples associated with acne. However, herpes is typically associated with more itchiness and pain than acne.
And whereas oral herpes sores are usually found on the mouth, lips, chin, cheeks, or nose, acne can break out on any area of the face as well as on the neck, chest, back, and shoulders.
Acne is caused by excess skin oil, clogged pores, and bacteria not the herpes virus. Hormones, stress, certain medicines, and sometimes diet can trigger or worsen acne outbreaks. While a single pimple may clear up in a few days, a larger acne outbreak may last for weeks to months.
Acne is not contagious, and topical and oral medication can help heal pimples, stop new pimples from forming, and prevent scars. To avoid scarring, don’t squeeze or pop pimples.
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Is It Safe To Breastfeed If I Have Genital Herpes
Yes as long as there isnt an open lesion on your chest or breast. If you have an active outbreak while breastfeeding, its possible to spread the infection to your nipples through touch. Careful hand-washing can prevent this spread. You shouldnt nurse from a breast that has herpes sores. You can pump breast milk until the sores heal. Dont give your baby expressed breast milk if the pump comes into contact with an open sore.
Cycle And Duration Of A Herpes Outbreak
When an individual is first infected with herpes and exhibit active symptoms, the duration of the primary outbreak will be the worst and most painful and can take 3 to 6 weeks to resolve. Subsequent recurrent outbreaks will be less severe, typically lasting 3 to 14 days and the frequency will become farther and farther apart with each recurring attack.
A typical cycle and duration of a herpes outbreak may look like the following:
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Can I Breastfeed If I Have Genital Herpes
Yes, you can breastfeed if you have genital herpes, but not if you have a herpes sore on one of your breasts. If you have genital herpes, it is possible to spread the infection to any part of your breast, including your nipple and areola.
If you have any genital herpes sores on one or both of your breasts:
- You can keep breastfeeding as long as your baby or pumping equipment does not touch a herpes sore.
- Do not breastfeed from the breast with sores. Herpes is spread through contact with sores and can be dangerous to a newborn baby.
- Pump or hand-express your milk from the breast with sores until the sores heal. Pumping will help keep up your milk supply and prevent your breast from getting overly full and painful. You can store your milk to give to your baby in a bottle for another feeding. But if parts of your pump also touch the sore while pumping, throw the milk away.
What Happens If I Dont Receive Treatment
Genital herpes can cause painful genital sores and can be severe in people with suppressed immune systems.
If you touch your sores or fluids from the sores, you may transfer herpes to another body part like your eyes. Do not touch the sores or fluids to avoid spreading herpes to another part of your body. If you do touch the sores or fluids, quickly wash your hands thoroughly to help avoid spreading the infection.
If you are pregnant, there can be problems for you and your unborn fetus, or newborn baby. See Im pregnant. How could genital herpes affect my baby? for information about this.
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How To Get Rid Of Herpes The Conventional Way
For most people with herpes, the virus typically represents nothing more than an inconvenience however, the real risk is for immuno-compromised patients who cant easily manage infections. In these patients, such as those with HIV/AIDS, herpes simplex infection is associated with increased morbidity and mortality.
As of 2017, there is not currently a herpes vaccine available to prevent HSV-1 or HSV-2.
Doctors sometimes prescribe medications to help keep the herpes virus suppressed or to speed up healing of cold sores by reducing bacteria that can cause infections. Some medications that are now used to control herpes include:
- Nucleoside analogues and antiviral medications
- Creams/ointment to help lower pain and inflammation near the site of sores
- Over-the-counter painkillers to reduce aches, tenderness or fever
However, its important to understand that even with early detection and prescription medications, either form of the herpes virus cannot be totally cured so transmission is always still possible. Medications for viruses dont always work long term and are not a cure-all.
How Can I Protect My Sex Partners
You can take steps to protect others from herpes. Keep in mind that you can spread it even when you dont have symptoms.
Avoid sex during outbreaks: Youre more likely to give your partner herpes while you have an outbreak. Avoid sexual contact from the time you notice the first signs, such as tingling or pain, until the scabs fall off and your skin is back to normal.
Try not to touch your sores: If you do, wash your hands right away. A good cleaning may stop the spread to another part of your body or to your partner.
Use condoms: They wont totally protect your partner, but they can lower the chances of spreading the virus.
Talk to your doctor: They might prescribe a drug to make it less likely youll give herpes to someone else. As with condoms, the medicine wont 100% protect your partner.
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What Happens If You Leave Herpes Untreated
Many people who contract herpes dont realize it. This comes down to the fact that herpes doesnt always show obvious signs and symptoms, and when herpes symptoms do show – they can sometimes be quite mild.
Without regular sexual health testing, its possible to have the virus, not know, and, ultimately leave it untreated. Unfortunately, there are some notable complications associated with untreated herpes, particularly untreated genital herpes, these include:
- Increased risk of contracting other sexually transmitted infections
- Babies can be exposed to the virus during birth
- Inflammation in the bladder or the lining of the rectum
How To Recognize Genital Herpes
Genital herpes is a very common sexually transmitted disease . It is so common that many people, when they find any skin lesion around the genital areas, are likely to think that it is herpes. They are not entirely wrong to think that way. Genital herpes is the main cause of genital ulcers worldwide.1 And the condition is usually associated with a stigma that can itself cause anxiety and even depression2 and might influence the affected personâs decision to disclose the infection to others or seek care.3
A genital sore is not great news regardless of what is causing it. However, many other conditions causing genital sores have a prognosis different from that of herpes. Some can be worse, but others, unlike herpes,4 can be completely cured. Thatâs why weâre beginning this article with an explanation of how to recognize genital herpes and differentiate it from other genital skin lesions.
A sleeping virus
The herpes virus is known for staying âasleepâ in the body for a long time without showing symptoms. This feature is called latency: once the virus infects a person, after an initial phase that does not necessarily manifest with symptoms, it remains hidden in the body for many years, reactivating every now and then.4 Its reactivation is usually triggered by weakness of the immune system, such as in times of sustained stress, accumulated fatigue, heavy physical activity, or fever, but may not have any apparent cause.5, 6
Herpes skin lesions
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What Stands Out About Yale Medicines Approach To Genital Herpes
As an academic medical center, Yale Medicine provides a wide range of treatment options for patients. Our doctors are expert at diagnosing and treating difficult cases and helping manage the condition for people at risk, such as pregnant women. Our doctors have access to the most advanced technology for diagnosing herpes and other medical conditions.Also, our researchers continue to look for new information about the herpes virus.
Contact Dermatitis Can Be Mistaken For Herpes
Contact dermatitis is a skin condition that can cause red, itchy, cracked, dry, or scaly skin, blisters, or a rash. Like herpes, it recurs, and while its not an STD, when it appears in the mouth or genital area, it may be mistaken for herpes. However, unlike herpes, contact dermatitis can happen anywhere on the skin and is caused by direct contact with an irritant or something youre allergic to, per the Mayo Clinic. Its not caused by a virus.
Contact dermatitis usually occurs within minutes to hours after touching an irritant. Common causes include poison ivy and reactions to medication, cosmetics, detergents, and jewelry. The skin rash from contact dermatitis usually clears up in a few weeks.
The best way to prevent contact dermatitis is to identify whats causing it and avoid touching that item or substance again. Allergy testing can help identify the cause.
While contact dermatitis is generally not a serious condition, it can be itchy and uncomfortable. When the rash is present, try using cool, wet compresses or anti-itch creams to soothe it. Antihistamine pills can help reduce the itchiness. Avoid scratching the area: Doing so can make symptoms worse and open the door to a bacterial or fungal infection. If your itching is severe, you should see your primary care provider or a dermatologist for topical steroid medication.
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