Below are the answers to what is herpes and related questions about the source, behavior, and contagious nature of the viral disease known as herpes.
What is herpes?
Caused by certain types of the herpes simplex virus (HSV), the skin affliction known as herpes is a treatable viral disease in which HSV infects your nerve cells and makes a permanent home within them, periodically causing cold sores or lesions on your skin as the disease cycles through active and inactive phases. Herpes is transmitted by physical, skin-to-skin contact with an infected person.
Although thought of as a skin disease, herpes is actually a nerve infection where HSV invades and constantly resides within your skin’s nerve endings. Genetically altered by the presence of HSV, your nerve cells begin to manufacture viral particles. It is the outflow of active viral particles through the skin that cause the blisters and lesions associated with herpes , and these viral particles are what transfer HSV to others. This active period of contagiousness lasts between two and 20 days. Only a great quantity of viral outflow results in blisters; when viral particles excrete in small numbers, they can do so “asymptomatically” meaning there is no evidence of the presence of the virus, even when it is there.
How is herpes caused?
The most common types of herpes simplex are oral herpes and genital herpes. What is known as oral herpes is generally caused by HSV-1, and what is called genital herpes is generally an infection of HSV-2, although because of the contagious nature and easy transmission of the herpes simplex virus, it is possible to contract oral herpes on the genitals, and genital herpes on the mouth; in fact, it is possible for either virus to appear anywhere on the body. HSV-1 is increasingly the strain responsible for genital herpes infections.
What is Herpes Simplex 1 (oral herpes)?
The most frequent occurrence of herpes manifests as what is called oral herpes. Oral herpes is an extremely common disease, affecting about 80 percent of humans. HSV-1 invades those nerve endings stemming from the base of the brain to the face and creates what are generally called fever blisters or cold sores around the mouth.
Oral herpes is passed from person to person through physical contact with these sores. HSV-1 does typically appear on your face; however, it can be transmitted to any part of the body, and has specifically been known to appear in genital areas following the oro-genital contact involved in oral sex or genital to genital contact with a person infected with HSV-1 genital infection. HSV-1 is increasingly the strain responsible for genital herpes infections. HSV-1 site preference is oral and therefore patients with HSV-1 genital infection experience fewer genital outbreak episodes and outbreaks tend to be less in severity.
After the first year many patients with HSV-1 genital herpes have only one outbreak per year and many do not experience outbreaks at all. Still the risk of shedding the virus without noticeable symptoms remains. Genital HSV-1 can be passed from oral to genital, or genital to genital contact. It is possible to acquire both strains HSV-1 and HSV-2 orally or as a genital infection.
What is Herpes Simplex 2 (genital herpes)?
As the second most common type of herpes, genital herpes is the infection of HSV-2 into pelvic spinal chord nerve endings. Genital herpes is transmitted via genital-to-genital sexual contact between an infected and uninfected person and results in sores, blisters, or lesions throughout the genital area. While genital herpes is commonly passed on when an uninfected person has skin-on-skin contact with the lesion of an infected person, genital herpes can also be contracted when the affected person does not physically appear to be contagious, such as during asymptomatic periods of viral shedding . Just as oral herpes can be shared from the mouth to the genitals through oro-genital contact, Herpes Simplex 2 can also be spread from the genitals of an infected person to the mouth of an uninfected person through oral sex. Genital herpes does affect more than 50 million Americans, and new infection rates continue to be on the rise. An estimated 1 in 5 people in the United States has Genital herpes while an estimated 1 in 4 women in the United States has genital herpes. (4 Important Genital Herpes Symptoms )
How is herpes cured?
While a cure has yet to be discovered for herpes, the disease can be managed by various treatments. At this point, the key is to learn methods of prevention to ensure loved ones do not become infected. The good news for persons afflicted with herpes is that, with time, they eventually exhibit few or no symptoms – folliculitis or herpes (although they remain contagious).