Herpes is a common viral infection generally transmitted through skin-to-skin contact. It causes oral herpes (cold sores or fever blisters), genital herpes (genital sores or sores below the waist) or non-genital herpes (herpes on other parts of the body; most often ‘shingles’).

Herpes infects the nerve cells of the spinal cord (genital herpes) and the nerves at the base of the brain (oral herpes).

The virus is very distinct. An outbreak starts with one or a few small blisters. The blisters rupture and form scabs indicating the end of the outbreak. Outbreaks generally last a few days and often occur during stress. An infection with this virus is life-long, however the rash can be controlled with medication. Although there is no cure for herpes, some drugs have been effective in reducing the frequency and duration of outbreaks. Treatment for herpes will vary depending on the strain and stage of the virus.

Herpes Simplex Virus

HSV is one of the most common agents infecting humans of all ages. Herpes simplex is an infection that primarily affects the mouth or genital area. There are two closely related viruses termed:

  • herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV1 which is usually associated with oro-facial lesions (infections of the lips, mouth, and face) and
  • herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV2) which is usually sexually transmitted.

Symptoms include genital ulcers or sores. Both viruses cause painful vesicles on the skin at the site of inoculation.

Herpes precautions

Herpes precautions during an outbreak:

  • Keep affected area as clean and dry as possible
  • Soak in a tub of cool water 2 3 times daily
  • Avoid tight fitting underwear