This virus is extremely common—infecting the vast majority of humans at some time in life. You get it from another person due to close contact. There are actually 8 types of Herpes viruses, and TODAY we will discuss the most common two. We will take up the other types in future blogs.
Neurotropism is the unique property of these viruses—meaning the ability to infect nerves and set up housekeeping there. Of course this can cause pain and even damage nerves permanently. After the initial disease is over, the virus goes dormant in the nerve, living there for months to years, awaiting an opportune moment (usually when the immune system is weakened) to replicate and cause disease again. This cycle can repeat many times in susceptible individuals.
Recurrent disease is why Herpes is so insidious and often difficult to completely irradicate. Any type of stress can precipitate an outbreak of Herpes. Menstrual, sun exposure, finals—there is a long list of triggers. Cold sores/fever blisters are the most common type of Herpes infection, so lets talk about that type first.
HERPES SIMPLEX Type 1
Herpes Simplex Type 1 is the usual virus that causes painful skin sores above the waist, usually on the face around the mouth. It is typically spread by kissing when viruses are sheading—usually when a sore is present or is about to break out. Usually there is a prodrome before an outbreak—a tingling or funny feeling in the nerve endings where the sores are about occur. When you start to feel this, avoid kissing or close contact (especially with babies and cancer patients) and do good frequent hand washing. The first time infection can be more severe, more painful and even have low grade fever and lymph node swellings nearby. This usually occurs on the dry parts of the mouth and nearby skin—only rarely occurring inside the mouth. The first episode can last for 2 weeks, but recurrences only last 4-5 days on average.
Treatment focuses on antiviral antibiotic therapy and strengthening the immune system. Acyclovir (or one of its spin-off copycat drugs) is a great oral Rx medication for this—especially if it is started quickly after the initial prodrome symptoms. The quicker it is started, the quicker it will abort the attack. See your doctor for this drug and keep a supply nearby for when it is needed!
Finally, RELAX. Nearly everyone gets this virus sometime. You are not a leper! If you are one of the unfortunate ones that gets this frequently, there is prophylactic Acyclovir. You can take it by mouth daily for years if needed to keep the recurrences away. Thank God this is an extremely safe drug. I have used this drug a lot over the last 30 years and have only had one patient tell me there was a side effect. However, consult your doctor and pharmacist for what you need to know about Acyclovir, especially if you go on it for a long time.
HERPES SIMPLEX TYPE 2
Herpes Simplex Type 2 is almost identical to Type 1; however, it usually causes these same painful clustered sores/blisters/pustules BELOW the waist. It is usually spread by sexual contact, and it is even more likely to become recurrent—breaking out in cycles over time in approximately the same body location as before. Treatment is the same as for Type 1. Prevention is avoidance of intimate contact during times of outbreak and during that pre-outbreak prodrome of tingling and burning.
IS THERE A CURE FOR HERPES?
No, not yet. There is ongoing work for a vaccine. This will be the next step, but for now there is an excellent oral RX medication, Acyclovir. This is readily available, low cost and well tolerated. This offers a lot of help and hope. Good nutrition is fundamental and will help build a vital immune system that can prevent these viral infections and/or prevent the recurrent disease.
IS THERE A TOPICAL THERAPY?
Yes. Many OTC and Rx creams exist. These are minimally effective compared to Acyclovir (see my endorsement above). Therefore, I don’t use them very often. However, I always strongly recommend EPIONCE Medical Barrier Cream for both the lips/around the mouth skin and the genital skin. When used on a daily basis, this strengthens the outer protective barrier layer of the skin, thus helping prevent virus particles to penetrate. It also helps keep chemicals out that can weaken the skin defenses.
IS THERE A SPIRITUAL COMPONENT?
Yes. Wherever there is disease, the whole person is involved. Forgiveness will give health restoration. Often with Herpes there is someone who gave it to you. If you can truly forgive that person from your heart, not holding that against them anymore, your body will relax and mend more wholly. I am praying for your heart to be receptive and for healing to flow through your memories/heart into your body.
Steven A. Smith, MD, Dermatologist
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