Herpes is a viral infection caused by the herpes simplex virus ( also known as HSV). There are two types of HSV. Type 1 which is responsible mostly for oral herpes, although can case genital herpes as well. Type 2 affect predominantly the genital and anal areas, and is considered a sexually transmitted infection. Herpes virus can cause significant problems in babies and individuals with a weakened immune system. Occasionally, HSV can affect the brain and the digestive system.
It is estimated that the prevalence of HSV infection worldwide to be between 65% and 90% with HSV type 1 more prevalent than HSV type 2. The infection rate also increases as people age. According to data from 2003, over 500 million people around the word were infected with HSV type 2, with higher incidences in sub-Saharan Africa, and the lowest incidence in Western Europe. In the United States, almost 58% of the population is infected with HSV type 1 and 16% with HSV type 2. According to data from 2005-2008, the prevalence of HSV-2 is increasing with an estimated 39.2% of African Americans and almost 21% of women were infected with HSV type 2.
This virus is extremely contagious and is spread via direct contact with an active skin lesion or with the skin of a chronic carrier of the herpes virus even if he/she does not have lesions. Herpes infections are fairly easy to identify as they produce a typical skin eruption with tiny, fluid filled blisters on the skin or mucous membranes of the mouth, vagina or eyes. The skin surrounding the blisters is red and painful. Other symptoms associated with oral herpes include fever, headaches, muscle aches, fatigue and feeling sick. Genital herpes include skin lesions but may be accompanied by a burning feeling during urination or defecation. A few days to a few hours before the occurrence of the blisters some people may feel a tingling sensation or feeling of discomfort in the affected area. The blisters last up to two weeks. If the blisters became more inflamed, irritated or have a smelly discharge it is likely there is a secondary bacterial infection associated with herpes.
The most dangerous, and possibly fatal, infection occurs when herpes virus affects the brain, a condition known as herpes encephalitis. In this case, the infected person will experience confusion, fever and seizures. It is urgent that anyone experiencing these symptoms seek medical care immediately.
Neonatal herpes occurs when the pregnant mother infects the baby with herpes, usually at birth, and more often when the mother has active lesions or she recently acquired this infection. This condition can be also serious, as the virus may affect not only the skin, but also the baby’s brain. If left untreated, the baby may develop brain damage or even die. After the initial eruption, this virus will remain dormant in your body (inside your nerves) and will reactivate causing skin lesions in the same area that was originally affected. Re-activation is triggered by physical or emotional stress, menses, exposure to sun, fever or when using immune suppressive drugs.
Conventional treatment of herpes includes antiviral drugs such as acyclovir, valacyclovir or famciclovir. These antiviral drugs do not eliminate the infection, but rather only treat the symptoms. A variety of natural alternative supplements are available for managing infection with herpes and will be discussed in a future article.