Common herpes is caused by two types of the Herpes simplex virus – HSV-1 and HSV-2. Both virus types cause symptoms at the site of the infection. Type 1 is associated with upper-body infections – the lesions are located on the lips and in the mouth, and Type 2 is associated with genital infections. However, due to a change in sexual habits, this pattern is no longer the rule. Oral herpes may occur as a result of an HSV-2 infection or (which is much more common) genital herpes as a result of an HSV-1 infection.
Herpes viruses are very common. HSV-1 spreads mainly through oral contact (kisses, shared use of e.g. toothbrushes, kitchen utensils), and HSV-2 through sexual intercourse. Infection can also occur during natural childbirth (transmission of the virus from mother to child). Neonatal infections are severe, can lead to death, and are caused by the HSV-2 type.
Due to the frequently asymptomatic or scarcely symptomatic course of the infection and the lack of need to register the cases of infection, it is difficult to estimate the scale of HSV infections. It is estimated, however, that as many as one in three Poles have symptoms of infections with Herpes simplex.
The HSV-1 and HSV-2 viruses cause harmless changes in the form of a transparent bubble, which over time transforms into a pustule, ulceration and eventually scab-covered cavity. The infection can spread inside the mouth, to the palate, throat, gums, mucous membranes of the cheeks and tongue. Genital herpes in men manifests itself on the foreskin or glans, and in women on the vulva, vagina, cervix, anus or groin. These lesions can be painful. HSV infections may be accompanied by flu-like symptoms. The first noticeable effects of the infection may appear 5 days after contact with the pathogen. The course of primary infections is usually severe. Returning infections are more precisely located and last shorter than the primary infection, are often preceded by a specific tingling and burning around the area of the expected lesion, and may re-occur even every 2-3 weeks. The complications of disseminated infection with HSV-1 and HSV-2 include herpetic corneal inflammation, whitlow, eczema herpeticum, and herpesviral encephalitis.
The treatment of infections caused by Herpes simplex viruses is to alleviate the course of the infection and prevent the occurrence of the disease. It is not possible to eliminate the infectious agent. Acyclovir is the drug of choice, which is effective in the treatment of severe forms of herpes and is used prophylactically.
In the case of a positive test result for an infection of the intimate areas, the partner and the persons with whom you have had sexual intercourse during the last two months should be informed immediately. Partners should also be tested for the infection. Sexual restraint should be maintained during and up to one week after the end of treatment.