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What is Herpes?

Herpes is the name used for a number of infections that are caused by the herpes simplex virus. There are actually two types of herpes viruses - herpes simplex type 1 and type 2 (HSV-1 and HSV-2). HSV-1 usually causes oral herpes, which is more often known as cold sores or fever blisters. HSV-2 usually causes genital herpes, which affects the genital and anal area. However, HSV-1 can also cause genital herpes and vice versa, and both viruses can also cause other similar infections, such as ocular herpes, herpes gladiatorum, and herpes whitlow. It is also thought that there may be a link between herpes and other diseases such as Bell’s palsy and Alzheimer’s Disease, however these are secondary results of the infection, and the links are not yet certain.

Stages of Herpes

The herpes virus enters the body through tiny breaks in the skin, and can gain access to these sites through sexual intercourse or other contact. It can even spread from one part of the body to another, such as if you have genital herpes and transmit the virus to your eyes via your fingers. Once the virus has entered the body, it replicates and starts to give rise to various symptoms, going through several stages of herpes. However, herpes very often exists without any symptoms, in which case the person may not know that they are infected, but will be able to transmit the virus to others. If symptoms do appear, they usually go through the following stages:

•    Stage 1: Within approximately a week after infection, the affected area starts to get itchy, and then tiny blisters and sores start to appear. The sores are sometimes accompanied by flu-like symptoms such as a fever and muscle aches. Sores in the genital area can be quite painful, especially for women, who may have difficulty urinating.
•    Stage 2: In the next two or three weeks, the sores will crust over and start to heal, after which the infection goes into a period of latency. During this stage, there are no symptoms of herpes, but the virus is spreading inside the body.
•    Stage 3: The next stage is dangerous because the herpes virus has spread to body fluids and there is a high risk of it being transmitted. This stage is sometimes known as the shedding stage.
•    Stage 4: Finally, the disease goes into a mild stage, during which there may be minor outbreaks. Outbreaks can be precipitated or aggravated by stress or other illnesses.
There is no cure for herpes, but there are medications that can help manage the disease. If you think you may have herpes, you should consult your doctor, who will be able to prescribe appropriate medicines and provide herpes information.