- Diseases, Disorders & Conditions
What Are the Symptoms of a First Herpes Outbreak?
Herpes is common in a large proportion of the population, not least because this highly contagious disease is not always recognised at first by those people who suffer from it. There are two types of herpes virus, herpes simplex-1 virus and herpes simplex-2 virus, known as HSV-1 and HSV-2 respectively. HSV-1 is also known as oral herpes and HSV-2 is known as genital herpes in recognition of the area of the body which they infect.
Part of the reason that herpes is so prevalent is due to the fact that thirty to forty per cent of primary infections actually show no symptoms at all. In fact, some people never even develop symptoms in recurrent infections and they spread the disease without any knowledge of the fact. However, in general, the primary infection is usually the worst.
What is the Difference Between HSV-1 and HSV-2?
All in all there is not a lot of difference in the symptoms of HSV-1 and HSV-2 other than the location of the infection with HSV-1 infecting the mouth area and HSV-2 infecting the genital area. However, it is possible for these viruses to infect either area. There are a few minor differences, however.
- Very rare symptoms of herpes simplex-1 virus can include meningitis, loss of hearing and difficulty with swallowing. The problems with hearing and swallowing, however, could be linked to the location of the sores rather than anything else.
- Studies in Hawaii have shown HSV-2 to be more virulent than HSV-2. This is due to genital herpes (HSV-2) having a higher recurrence rate than oral herpes (HSV-1). Interestingly, when the herpes virus is located in the opposite region (e.g. genital herpes (HSV-2) infecting the mouth), the recurrence rate is lower than when the virus is correctly located.
- HSV-1 has been known on rare occasions to cause herpes encephalitis, when the virus navigates its way to the brain via the nervous system. This extremely rare complication of herpes simplex-1 virus can cause hallucinations, convulsions and even death.
What Are the Symptoms?
Since there is no real difference in the symptoms of HSV-1 and HSV-2, we will concentrate on the sexually transmitted herpes virus HSV-2.
Although HSV-2 is generally regarded as genital herpes, it can also occur in the mouth and is spread this way through oral sex. Primary infections are commonly the ones that display the worst symptoms, but in some cases there are no symptoms displayed at all. Outbreaks differ between individuals, but here are a few of the symptoms of a herpes infection. They may be experienced as a single symptom or in combination with any or all of the others.
- Prior to any visible symptoms showing, the HSV-2 virus enters what is known as the prodromal phase, where it starts duplicating itself before coming to the surface of the skin. At this point the virus is very contagious and a tingling, itchy or burning sensation will be felt on the skin. The tingling sensation is more common than itching or burning and isn’t necessarily confined to the genital regions. This symptom typically lasts 1 – 3 days and at this time the virus is highly contagious.
- The first symptom of herpes is usually a fever, although not everyone who contracts HSV-2 suffers with this. Fever generally occurs 6 or 7 days after being exposed to the virus and can be accompanied by flu like symptoms such as achy muscles and headache.
- The most identifiable symptom of herpes is the development of sores or blisters, which greatly help with diagnosis of the condition. Although the blisters or sores may manifest in different ways, they all generally scab over after a while. HSV-2 blisters are commonly found inside the cervix of a woman. They can also be found on the skin around the vagina or on the labia. On men they will appear on the tip of the penis, on the shaft and the scrotum.
- Some women may experience a vaginal discharge. As discharges are common with other conditions, medical advice should be sought to determine whether it is due to HSV.
- A common herpes symptom is pain and particularly with HSV-2 where it could lead to urination difficulties.
- From the prodromal stage right through to the end of the outbreak, a major symptom of herpes is itching which may be accompanied by a rash in addition to the blisters.
- Herpes meningitis is a symptom that occurs in 1 in 10 sufferers, but affects women more than men. These symptoms are the same as those for traditional meningitis and last for around 7 days.
These symptoms are not necessarily experienced by everyone who has HSV-2 and the severity of each symptom can also vary from case to case. There is no cure for herpes and the virus stays in the body permanently. Recurrences display the same symptoms as primary infections, but are mostly less severe and not all symptoms will be present.
What Is the Treatment?
As previously stated, there is no way to get rid of herpes and so the best solution is to reduce both the severity of the outbreaks and the frequency of them.
Because of the nature of genital herpes, it can seriously interfere with your day to day life and so managing the condition is of great importance. This can be done by relieving the symptoms, reducing the severity and preventing the transmission to a partner.
Relieving the symptoms of HSV-2 is possible through both medication and dietary supplements and results can also be achieved by simple lifestyle choices such as opting to wear looser clothes and making sure your genitals are dry. These options can also help with the severity of outbreaks and it is also possible to achieve a reduction in the severity of an outbreak by identifying the trigger – such as stress or friction - and controlling it.
It is extremely difficult to prevent the transmission of HSV-2 to a partner simply because, unlike with other sexually transmitted diseases, a condom isn’t effective. Skin to skin contact is the way this virus is transmitted and a condom only protects part of the skin. The best way of preventing transmission is to refrain from sex altogether. Waiting until in between outbreaks is not 100 per cent reliable either as sometimes outbreaks occur without displaying any symptoms.
What’s the Verdict?
Whilst the symptoms of herpes can be very severe in a primary infection outbreak, some people experience no symptoms at all and with no clue as to when the virus is contagious it is very easy to pass the disease on to somebody else. Symptoms tend to be strongest during the primary infection and, although HSV-2 remains in the body and can reoccur at any time, subsequent infections tend to be somewhat milder and the frequency eventually fades away.
Symptoms of HSV-1 are practically identical to those of HSV-2 and both strains can infect the mouth or the genitals, although they are both more virulent in the area that they are most associated with. These infections usually start off with flu- like symptoms, causing headaches, nausea and fever. This is followed by tingling at the site where the outbreak is attacking and possible itching and burning sensations. This is a highly contagious stage. Blisters and sores then start to form in the affected area.
Herpes does not have a cure and so it is only possible to try to control the pain associated with it whilst trying to heal the sores and blisters. This can be achieved by using medication and dietary supplements and trying to control those events that trigger off fresh outbreaks.
Once a patient has experienced a primary herpes infection, they can expect a recurrence – however, subsequent outbreaks tend to be far less severe and the frequency of outbreaks should diminish with each passing year.
Tackling HSV-2 is a three pronged attack, whereby patients should endeavor to lower the severity of outbreaks, reduce and relieve the symptoms and then prevent transmission of the virus to a partner.
Recognising the symptoms of a herpes virus outbreak is not simple or obvious to the untrained eye and, indeed, with so many people not displaying symptoms at all, it makes life very difficult and potentially dangerous with a sufferer not knowing they have herpes being able to pass on the disease to someone else.
Once you have identified the symptoms of HSV-2 you are in a far better position to tackle the problem. Whether you choose pharmaceutical medicine, dietary supplements or a change of lifestyle you are well on your way to managing a condition that there is yet no cure for.