Herpes infection

What is it?

Herpes is an infection that causes sores or ulcers. It is caused by a virus called Herpes simplex and can be of 2 types – HSV-1 and 2. HSV-1 is mostly responsible for infection above the waist while HSV-2 causes sores below the waist, usually in the genital area. Genital herpes is caused by HSV-2. Herpes is different from other viral infections since it is lasts a lifetime. The virus remains latent or "sleeping" within the body and travels through nerve pathways to cause the symptoms. Because this virus remains dormant in the nerve roots for long periods, the symptoms can also manifest later in life.

What are the causes?

Herpes infection spreads through direct contact from one person to another. HSV-1, that usually affects the upper portion of the body, is spread by kissing and skin to skin contact. HSV-2, that usually causes genital herpes is spread through vaginal or anal intercourse and oral sex. Humans are the only known carriers of the infection. The infection can also be transmitted from a pregnant mother to her baby.

What are the symptoms?

A herpes infection can recur at any time, but the symptoms are usually the most severe during the first attack because the body does not have any defence against the virus. This attack is usually also the longest. Primary herpes usually affects various regions of the body causing: Ulcers in the mouth region Keratitis – ulceration in the eye Finger infection Vulvo-vaginitis – genital herpes Encephalitis – infection of the coverings of the brain The main symptoms of herpes are the eruption of blisters or pimples, which crust over and then scab off. There may be some flu-like symptoms like fever, body ache and swelling of lymph nodes near the groin. Though the symptoms are usually moderate to severe, they may also be so mild that a person may not even notice them. In some cases, the symptoms of herpes may be mistaken for insect bites, mild abrasions or yeast infections.Some people get warning signs before an attack. These are called prodromes and consist of itching, tingling or a painful feeling in the area where the lesions will develop. The attack usually follows a day or two later.

How is the diagnosis made?

A sample from the infected area is taken and tested in a laboratory. When the virus is stained with a dye to identify it. A blood test may be done to identify antibodies that are produced even when no symptoms are visible.

What is the treatment?

There is still no known treatment to cure herpes. The symptoms can only be controlled with medication. The most commonly used drugs for the treatment of herpes are acyclovir, valayclovir and famciclovir. These are better absorbed by the body and can be taken less often.Treatment can be given in two ways – episodic therapy and suppressive therapy. Episodic therapy is given during the active infection when the outbreak and its symptoms can be seen. This form of treatment provides considerable relief during the attack. Suppression therapy means taking the antiviral therapy even in times of dormancy. It is a preventive form of therapy aimed at reducing the number of flare ups and at lessening the symptoms.

DoctorNDTV Team

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