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Definition

It is a viral infection of the skin that may occur once or again and again. Herpes infections are very common. It is estimated that nine out of ten people have been exposed to herpes. Many people are infected and don’t even know it. Unfortunately those who carry herpes can spread the disease without even knowing it. There are two types of herpes simplex virus, HSV-1 and HSV-2. Sometimes HSV-1 or HSV-2 enters through a break in the skin of a finger, causing a swollen, painful, red fingertip.

Causes

Most people get Type 1 infections, which cause cold sores, during infancy or childhood. They usually get it from close contact with family members or friends who carry the virus. It can be transmitted by kissing, sharing eating utensils, or by sharing towels. The sores most commonly affect the lips, mouth, nose, chin, or cheeks and occur shortly after exposure.
However, the following are known triggers that can stimulate a recurrence:

  • Physical stress
  • Poor emotional coping style
  • Persistent stressors for greater than 1 week
  • Anxiety
  • Fever
  • Exposure to ultraviolet light
  • Nerve damage
  • Tissue damage
  • A suppressed immune system
  • Heat
  • Cold
  • Menstruation
  • Other infections
  • Fatigue

Symptoms

This common infection is known also as 'fever blisters'. The first symptom is itchiness and tingling at the site of the developing infection, usually on the edge of the lips. Blisters soon appear and later burst to become crusted sores. The person usually feels unwell. The infection occurs only occasionally in some people but frequently in others. More than 60% of new HSV-2 infections and about a third of new HSV-1 infections do not produce symptoms.
Symptoms may include:

  • tingling of the lips
  • a small blister or cluster of blisters on the lips and mouth that enlarge, burst, then crust over
  • itching and irritation of the lips and mouth
  • soreness of the lips and mouth that may last from three to seven days

Treatment

To treat genital herpes, the doctor may prescribe an antiviral medicine like acyclovir in the form of an ointment or pills. These medications can't cure HSV2, but they can help make a person feel better and shorten the duration of the outbreak.

Herpes is treated with an antiviral medication that reduces symptoms and dries up the blisters. People who get HSV-1 or -2 frequently or have severe outbreaks may take this type of medication daily to prevent symptoms.

Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, can help reduce pain. Aciclovir is a very expensive drug in its branded form, but generic forms of aciclovir are becoming available. These are manufactured in a large number of countries, and have made the cost of treating herpes simplex somewhat more affordable in middle and low income countries.

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