What is herpes simplex?

Herpes simplex is a disease caused by two viruses, herpes simplex virus 1 and herpes simplex virus 2, generally known simply as HSV-1 and HSV-2. Herpes simplex is identified based on where it occurs in the body, with the two main manifestations being genital herpes and oral herpes. Genital herpes, often just referred to as herpes, occurs on both the male and female genitalia, while oral herpes can appear in or around the mouth. In addition to these commonly known forms, a number of other diseases are also caused by herpes simplex, including neonatal herpes, Mollaret's meningitis, keratitis, herpetic whitlow, and cerebral herpes infection encephalitis. It is also possible that Bell's palsy is caused by herpes simplex.

The most noticeable symptom of herpes simplex is the appearance of small, painful blisters. These blisters can be a bit itchy and may itch or hurt. They are fluid-filled and may be accompanied by flu-like symptoms, including headaches, muscle pain, exhaustion, and fever. The blisters tend to form near the lip in the case of oral herpes, and near or on the external sexual organs in the case of genital herpes. In the case of genital herpes, an outbreak may also be accompanied by swollen lymph nodes in the genital region, as well as painful urination.

In general, the symptoms of a herpes simplex infection appear for a period of time and then disappear again. At any time, symptoms can return, but there are several things related to outbreaks. Most notably, a lowered immune system as a result of another illness can cause herpes simplex viruses to cause symptoms. Stress has also been associated with herpes, especially the oral and genital varieties. During outbreak periods, the possibility of transmission increases, but it must be emphasized that even when there are no visible symptoms, and even when the virus has lain dormant for extended periods of time, it can still be transmitted through contact.

The severity of herpes symptoms varies widely from person to person, and can vary from outbreak to outbreak. Many people have few noticeable symptoms, merely acting as passive carriers. For those who do experience symptoms, they typically begin two days to three weeks after infection, and then may recur at any interval or when environmental factors cause an outbreak. However, recurrences are rarely as intense as the initial flare, and many people will experience a flare and then see no further symptoms for months, years, or in some cases even the rest of their lives.

There is no known cure for herpes simplex, and there is no known vaccine. Several promising vaccines are being studied, but any vaccine is likely years away from being perfected. Although herpes simplex cannot be truly cured, there are a number of medications that can be taken to help slow the shedding of viral cells, protect against infection, and reduce or eliminate the worst symptoms of a herpes outbreak.

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