Once a person is infected with herpes, the virus may stay dormant or quiet within the nerves. It is not known what exactly may trigger the symptoms, however, the symptoms can be activated or triggered by certain factors such as:
- Genital stimulation such as during sexual intercourse
- Menstrual periods
- Emotional stress
- Physical exertion
- Exposure to cold
- Sunlight exposure
- Low immunity as seen in HIV, diabetes and chemotherapy
What is genital herpes?
Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by either the herpes simplex virus HSV type 1 (HSV-1) or HSV type 2 (HSV-2). The disease is contagious and can spread through skin contact including unprotected vaginal and oral sex. Transmission usually occurs when in the early stage when there are no visible signs in the infected partner. The infection can affect any part of the body, although it is most commonly seen around the genitals, mouth or anus. Once infected, the virus may stay in the affected person for life. The blisters may heal within two to three weeks but the virus lies dormant inside the nerves causing occasional flare-ups.
Most people infected with HSV show no symptoms or very mild symptoms that may mistaken for another skin condition. Typical symptoms include a blister like rash that erupts in clusters. The rashes typically occur on or around the genitals, rectum or mouth. Symptoms may occur after a period of two to twelve days after the infection. The rashes are painful and may be associated with burning or itching sensation. The symptoms are usually worst in the first episode. Recurrent outbreaks may be shorter and milder than the initial one.
How can I prevent getting herpes outbreaks?
To reduce the risk of herpes outbreaks you may consider the following:
- Take antiviral medicines regularly as prescribed by your doctor
- Take adequate sleep to keep your immune system strong and minimize emotional stress and fatigue
- Follow a healthy diet as good nutrition keeps your immunity strong besides keeping you physically and mentally healthy
- Manage your stress levels by following practices such as regular exercise, meditation, reading and music
- Protect yourself from potential triggers such as sun, wind, and extreme cold and heat. You may try staying indoors on windy, cold, or hot days or take preventive steps such as wearing a sunscreen to guard yourself against the weather.
How can I manage a herpes outbreak at home?
The following tips may help to ease the symptoms of a herpes outbreak:
- Take over the counter pain killers such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or aspirin
- Apply cool compresses to sores many times a day for relieving itching and pain
- In the case of women with sores on the vaginal lips (labia), they may try urinating in a tub of water to reduce pain.
- Do not apply bandage to or cover the sores as air speeds healing
- Wash the sores gently with soap and water. Do not rub them with a towel. Gently pat dry.
- Never pick at the sores as this may cause infection and delay healing.
- Apply only the creams or lotions prescribed by your healthcare provider for the sores. Do not share your creams/ointments or lotions.
- Take your antiviral medications as prescribed by your provider.
- Wear loose-fitting cotton clothes
- A water based lubricant while intercourse may reduce the friction around the genitals and keep the sores away.
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