What is HSV?

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  • Written By: L. Hepfer
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 24 May 2020
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The herpes simplex virus (HSV) is a virus that enters the body through mucous membranes, generally located around the mouth or the genital area. Once HSV is inside the body, it attacks the nerve cells close to the skin's surface. These attacks may, or may not, cause outbreaks of painful blisters on the skin.

There are two different types of the disease, called HSV-1 and HSV-2, respectively. The two diseases are very similar in their DNA. What makes the two different is their preferred area of attack. Type-1 generally settles in the nerve cells close to the ear that cause outbreaks around the mouth. Type-2 generally settles in an area at the base of the spine with outbreaks occurring on the genitals or rectum.

HSV-1 infections are often asymptomatic; however, a variety of symptoms may appear in the mouth or around it. Lesions may appear and cause serious pain inside the mouth. The lesions that appear outside of the mouth around the lips are generally referred to as cold sores.

An infected person may not be aware that they even have the virus. If their immune system is strong enough to fight the viral infection, no symptoms will be present, and it is possible that there won't be any blister outbreaks. Someone infected with Type-1 is still contagious, and can transmit this virus easily through kissing.

Aside from the mouth, HSV-1 can appear through the skin and eyes. Areas of the skin that may be damaged or weakened from eczema, or other skin disorders are more susceptible having an outbreak. Infection in the eye is extremely rare, but possible. The eye may become infected after being rubbed with the hands once they have touched another infected area. It may occur in just one eye or both, and the outbreak is extremely painful, involving blisters on the eyelid with swelling and tearing of the skin.

HSV-2 is the strain of herpes that attacks the genital area on men and women. Symptoms of the infection may include numbness or tingling in the legs or genitals, tender lymph nodes in the groin area or small, painful blisters. Women tend to have more painful outbreaks than men, and painful blisters appear in the vaginal and vulval areas, as well as the rectum. Men experience outbreaks on the tip or shaft of the penis and the rectal area. Type-2 is extremely contagious and can be transmitted from person to person through oral, vaginal and anal intercourse.

Once the body has been infected with Type-1 or Type-2, outbreaks may occur at any given time. Many things can encourage an outbreak such as fever, stress or hormonal changes in the body. Medical science isn't sure why this happens, but outbreaks tend to occur less over time. It has also been discovered that two-thirds of people that are infected with the herpes simplex virus are not aware they have the virus because they show no signs or symptoms.

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Post 3

Can someone with HSV-2 have a healthy sexual life after the infection? How does one cope with the risk of infecting others and what is the best way to explain this to a partner?

Post 2

@MikeMason-- Don't beat yourself up about it. HSV-1 is very common and many of us carry the virus. It's possible to get infected with it and not have an outbreak for years. So for all we know, you might have gotten it when you were a toddler. It's very easy to pick it up too, you can get it by taking a sip of your friend's drink.

If you keep your immune system strong and if you keep your lips hydrated, you will reduce your chances of getting a cold sore. There are also supplements and medications at the pharmacy that you can use when you feel a lip sore coming on.

Post 1

I wish I had known that cold sores are caused by HSV-1. I would have taken my precautions not to get infected with it but it's too late.

I'm not sure where I got it from but probably a family member or a girlfriend. All I know is that I have it. I got my first ever cold sore last week and it was the most painful thing I've ever experienced!

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