What’s Herpes and How Is It Transmitted?

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Herpes is the name given to a collection of similar viruses that give symptoms that include blisters and painful sores. There are a few different strains of the virus that come under the umbrella ‘herpes’ which include:

HSV or Herpes Simplex Virus – This comes in two types, one and two. These both cause the typical blisters and cold sores associated with the herpes name, which can form around the mouth and the genitals.

Herpes Zoster – This is the virus that’s associated with chickenpox and shingles. These aren’t commonly known to be associated with the herpes name, but are a similar strain of the virus.

Genital Herpes – This is an STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection) that’s most commonly transmitted through sexual intercourse and causes the most commonly thought of symptoms when referring to herpes through sores and blisters around the genital area. This virus is unfortunately not treatable, so once you have it, you’ll carry it for life.

Symptoms of Herpes

Herpes can show itself in both subtle and obvious ways, varying from person to person. If the symptoms are milder, there may only be slight skin irritation that may be mistaken for another condition. There are a few symptoms to be aware of, though, if you think that you may have herpes. These include sores that may be painful, which will appear around the genitals, thighs, anus, or buttocks. These will often be both sore and will itch. In addition, you may find that you notice a vaginal discharge if you’re female, or that urinating is painful. The last two symptoms can appear in both men and women. If you notice any of these symptoms, regardless of how serious you perceive them to be, it’s recommended that you visit your general practitioner.

Primary Herpes

The first time you get herpes can often lead to the most serious symptoms. This is known as ‘primary herpes,’ and when someone first contracts the virus, they may feel like they have the flu with an increase in temperature and fever. After the initial bout of the virus, people that are infected will then have occasional outbreaks, which are generally not as severe. These outbreaks will include new sores and potentially some less severe flu symptoms. Over time, these outbreaks generally decrease in severity and frequency.

Information About Herpes Virus: What Happens After You’re Infected?

There are a few stages to the virus after someone has become infected for the first time.

Stage 1: Primary Stage

As mentioned, this includes the most severe symptoms a person will generally feel after they have been infected with the herpes virus. The first signs generally appear between a couple of days and a week after first becoming infected. Symptoms that appear initially include blisters that are small but can be painful. These blisters can have a clear or slightly clouded liquid inside and will eventually burst and become sores. The severity of these will differ from person to person, and may be quite severe and painful or not even noticeable. Another symptom is a feeling of having the flu and all the associations with this, such as feeling run-down, running a fever, and aching muscles. Also, it may start to hurt when an infected person is urinating. Some people may get all of these symptoms, and others will get none, not even realizing they have the virus at all. 

Stage 2: Latency Stage

Once the initial flare-up of symptoms has appeared in the first week or so, they will gradually become less severe, and any blisters and sores will eventually disappear along with any other feelings of the flu and fever. Once the symptoms have gone completely, an infected individual reaches a period of latency, as it moves from your skin into the nerves around the spine.

Stage 3: Shedding Stage

As the virus moves through the body into the nerves, it reaches the nerve endings and multiplies. This will include nerve endings that are attached to parts of the body that crease bodily fluids such as semen, saliva, or vaginal fluids. This is what makes the virus able to spread from person to person. At this stage, the infected person won’t be showing any symptoms, but they can spread the disease to others through transmitting bodily fluids.

Stage 4: Recurring Flare-ups

After the symptoms have regressed, infected people will often find that they get recurring flare-ups similar to, but not as aggressive, as the first. The symptoms will often be similar, but not as severe, and will often get better more quickly. Certain things may cause a recurrence, such as stress or lack of sleep. For females, a period may also be a trigger. It will often become obvious that a flare-up is happening due to itching starting in the areas that blisters usually form.

How Do You Get Herpes?

Herpes is, for the most part, a sexually transmitted infection, meaning that infection happens through vaginal, anal, or oral sex. The mouth and genitals are the easiest places for the virus to transmit and enter the body. If the infected person already has blisters or sores, the likelihood of the virus being transmitted is increased. This isn’t the only way that the virus can spread, though. It can also be spread if an infected person touches a sore, and when that body part comes into contact with a less protected part of another person such as the eyes or mouth.

How Is Herpes Avoided?

The simplest way of avoiding the STI is to avoid having sex with anyone that has the virus. Unfortunately, it isn’t always possible to tell if someone has herpes, and they can spread it even if they have no symptoms. Using a condom is the best protection against herpes, and should be used whenever you’re having sex with a partner you’re not confident that doesn’t have any STIs or STDs. 

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