Herpes Simplex Virus

Herpes Simplex Virus

Herpes simplex is a common viral infection that presents with painful water blisters on the infected skin. There are two main types of herpes virus: herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV2). HSV1 is the main cause of cold sores or fever blisters on the lips or face, while HSV2 is more commonly associated with genital herpes. However, it is important to note that both HSV1 and HSV2 can cause sores on either the face or genitals. After the initial infection, the herpes simplex virus continues to live in the nerves that are responsible for sensation to the infected skin. During an active flare, the virus travels down the nerves and onto the skin to cause herpes lesions on lips, mouth, and genitals. Once the outbreak is over, the virus goes back down to its resting place in the nerve fibers where it resides until the next flare. Risk factors for outbreaks include emotional stress, excessive sun exposure, skin injury, or a weakened immune system.

Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 (HSV1)

HSV1 is the main cause of cold sores or fever blisters. A HSV1 viral infection is usually acquired during early childhood, through skin-to-skin contact, kissing, and sharing utensils, drinking cups, toys, and other personal belongings. Since infected individuals shed the virus even without having active sores, it is easily transmitted through any close contact. Cold sores are very prevalent, and approximately 80% of American population is infected. Once infected, an individual will continue to host the virus within their nerves. There is no cure for cold sores, but treatment is sought to help suppress the virus and shorten the duration, severity, and frequency of outbreaks.

Herpes Simplex Virus Type 2 (HSV2)

HSV2 is the main cause of genital herpes, which is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Affected patients experience periodic flares of painful water blisters and ulcers on their genital skin. Since HSV2 is commonly acquired after puberty, in contrast to HSV1 which is acquired during childhood, it affects only approximately 20-25% of population. HSV2 is spread through contact with infected genital skin through sexual activity. Condoms may reduce the risk of transmission but do not eliminate the risk of becoming infected. This is because the infected individuals shed the virus even when not experiencing an active flare and virus may spread to other parts of the body, making transmission possible to uninfected individual.

Treatment of Herpes Simplex

There is no permanent cure for HSV1 or HSV2. Mild cases of herpes are usually self-limited and resolve within days to weeks. Prescription antiviral medications are used to treat severe or recurrent flares to help reduce the frequency, severity, duration of outbreaks. Patients experiencing active flares should avoid close contact and sharing utensils/drinking cups with others to prevent transmission of the virus. Using sunscreen can help reduce the frequency of cold sores. Ibuprofen or Tylenol can be taken to help reduce pain or fever. Topical lidocaine or benzocaine can be used to help with painful sores.

Talk to our dermatologists about your signs, and the frequency and severity of your symptoms so the most appropriate treatment plan can be developed for you.