Herpes simplex 1: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments
|Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). Photo: Medlatec.|
What is Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1)?
According to WebMD, Herpes simplex 1 (HSV-1) causes most oral herpes, also called fever blisters or cold sores. It’s so common that more than 50% of U.S. adults get it, usually through mouth-to-mouth contact. You can’t cure it, but over-the-counter medication relieves symptoms and can shorten healing time.
HSV-1 is a highly contagious infection, that is common and endemic throughout the world. Most HSV-1 infections are acquired during childhood, and infection is lifelong. The vast majority of HSV-1 infections are oral herpes (infections in or around the mouth, sometimes called orolabial, oral-labial or oral-facial herpes), but a proportion of HSV-1 infections are genital herpes (infections in the genital or anal area).
HSV-1 is mainly transmitted by oral-to-oral contact to cause oral herpes infection, via contact with the HSV-1 virus in sores, saliva, and surfaces in or around the mouth. However, HSV-1 can also be transmitted to the genital area through oral-genital contact to cause genital herpes.
HSV-1 can be transmitted from oral or skin surfaces that appear normal and when there are no symptoms present. However, the greatest risk of transmission is when there are active sores.
Individuals who already have HSV-1 oral herpes infection are unlikely to be subsequently infected with HSV-1 in the genital area.
In rare circumstances, HSV-1 infection can be transmitted from a mother with genital HSV-1 infection to her infant during delivery to cause neonatal herpes.
Signs and symptoms
|Symptoms of HSV-1. Photo: Findatopdoc|
Oral herpes infection is mostly asymptomatic, and most people with HSV-1 infection are unaware they are infected. Symptoms of oral herpes include painful blisters or open sores called ulcers in or around the mouth. Sores on the lips are commonly referred to as “cold sores.” Infected persons will often experience a tingling, itching or burning sensation around their mouth, before the appearance of sores. After initial infection, the blisters or ulcers can periodically recur. The frequency of recurrences varies from person to person.
Genital herpes caused by HSV-1 can be asymptomatic or can have mild symptoms that go unrecognized. When symptoms do occur, genital herpes is characterised by 1 one or more genital or anal blisters or ulcers. After an initial genital herpes episode, which may can be severe, symptoms may recur. However, genital herpes caused by HSV-1 typically does not recur frequently, unlike genital herpes caused by herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2; see below), said by the World Health Organization (WHO).
There is no cure for herpes simplex. The good news is that sores often clear without treatment. Many people choose to treat herpes simplex because treatment can relieve symptoms and shorten an outbreak, American Academy of Dermatology association.
Antiviral medications, such as acyclovir, famciclovir, and valacyclovir, are the most effective medications available for people infected with HSV. These can help to reduce the severity and frequency of symptoms, but cannot cure the infection.
Most people are treated with an antiviral medicine. An antiviral cream or ointment can relieve the burning, itching, or tingling. An antiviral medicine that is oral (pills) or intravenous (shot) can shorten an outbreak of herpes.
Prescription antiviral medicines approved for the treatment of both types of herpes simplex include:
Taken daily, these medicines can lessen the severity and frequency of outbreaks. They also can help prevent infected people from spreading the virus.
HSV-1 is most contagious during an outbreak of symptomatic oral herpes, but can also be transmitted when no symptoms are felt or visible. People with active symptoms of oral herpes should avoid oral contact with others and sharing objects that have contact with saliva. They should also abstain from oral sex, to avoid transmitting herpes to the genitals of a sexual partner. Individuals with symptoms of genital herpes should abstain from sexual activity whilst experiencing any of the symptoms.
People who already have HSV-1 infection are not at risk of getting it again, but they are still at risk of acquiring herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) genital infection.
The consistent and correct use of condoms can help to prevent the spread of genital herpes. However, condoms can only reduce the risk of infection, as outbreaks of genital herpes can occur in areas not covered by a condom.
Pregnant women with symptoms of genital herpes should inform their health care providers. Preventing acquisition of a new genital herpes infection is particularly important for women in late pregnancy, as this is when the risk for neonatal herpes is greatest, reported by WHO.
Additional research is underway to develop more effective prevention methods against HSV infection, such as vaccines. Several candidate HSV vaccines are currently being studied.
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