Herpes is a very common contagious infection caused by the herpes simplex virus. There are two types of herpes virus- one which causes cold sores around the mouth and the other which causes genital herpes.
Herpes 1 is easily transmitted through direct contact. An individual can acquire the virus by simply kissing or even sharing utensils of a person infected with the virus. In most cases, the virus does not cause any symptoms; therefore it is very possible to transfer the virus to other individuals, unknowingly.
At least 10-20% of individuals who acquire the infection, develop cold sores on the mouth. For some unknown reason, a few of these individuals may only have one episode of the infection, whereas other may develop recurrences.
Where are the sores?
The herpetic sores may occur on the inside or outside of the mouth and lips. The ulcers are painful and unsightly. The gums and lips do become red and swollen and eating can be difficult. During the acute infection, most individuals feel sick, tired and become irritable. The infection lasts anywhere from 4-10 days.
What happens to the virus?
After the first herpetic infection, the virus becomes dormant (goes to sleep) and the symptoms subside. However, the virus can reactivate at a later time and lead to the development of sores. Why the virus reactivates is unknown but thought to be related to stress, an infection, cold, hormonal changes, onset of menstruation or heavy alcohol use.
Is there a cure for the infection?
Unfortunately No. Once an individual acquires herpes, the virus stays with him or her forever. Although no medications can make the infection go away, prescription drugs are available that can shorten the length of the outbreak and make the cold sores less painful.
A drug called acyclovir is effective in treating herpes simplex. It is most effective when taken by mouth. There is a topical form of acyclovir available, which is not only expensive but it can only shorten the infection period at most by a day or two. Acyclovir needs to be taken 5 times a day for at least 10 days and is a costly drug. To numb the pain, one can rinse the mouth with mouth washes which contain a local anesthetic.
Is there anything else available?
There are many other herbs and nutrients (l lysine, hepercin) that have been postulated to cure herpes infections. Unfortunately, there are no scientific data to support such claims.
The best treatment of herpes is to prevent it. The infection can be prevented by avoiding direct contact with sores or ulcers of someone who has an active herpes infection. If you have a herpes infection you should alert anyone with whom you have close contact. In some states this is mandated by law.
Many people spread herpes because they do not know they have the disease; Chances are you contracted your herpes infection from someone who did not even know they had the disease.