Herpes is a condition that carries a lot of stigma but it is more common than most people realise. While it cannot be cured, there is much that you can do to help control the amount and severity of attacks that may occur. Read on to learn more about the condition and what you can do.
There are two types of the herpes virus – herpes Type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes Type 2 (HSV-2). HSV-1 is carried by over 80 percent of people and it is the type that causes cold sores. Most people pick up HSV-1 in the first few years of their life, usually by a kiss from a parent or a sibling. HSV-2 affects five to 20 percent of people (including people that have HSV-1) and it is most often associated with genital herpes. It is interesting to note that both HSV-1 and HSV-2 can cause a similar disease at both the genitals and on the face. One reason why herpes is so common and easy to transmit is because many people that carry the virus show no symptoms but shed the virus in their saliva or genital secretions.
People often don’t know that they have herpes as they don’t always get the cold sore. In fact, most cases of herpes that affect the face have symptoms such as a sore throat, sore mouth, swollen neck glands, and a temperature. The initial infection in the genital area produces a painful, red set of blisters that spread over a wide area and can even go as far as the perineum and anus. It can also include temporary numbness in the area, swollen glands in the groin, trouble urinating, and a temperature. Herpes is infectious until the sores crust over. After the initial infection on the face or genitals, the virus is dormant in the body but can recur with various triggers such as stress, being run down, menstruation, using drugs that suppress the immune system, and skin damage from heat, sun or chemicals. Herpes is a lifetime infection and cannot be cured.
While treatment cannot cure herpes, it can help to reduce the intensity of a primary infection as well as the frequency and severity of subsequent recurrences. Antiviral medicines are often used to reduce the severity and duration of an infection. These can be oral or topical. Antiviral medications that may be used include acyclovir, valaciclovir, and famciclovir. If you have infrequent recurrences, you can take the medication during each recurrence. This is called episodic therapy. If you have frequent recurrences (more than six a year), suppressive therapy may be used. This is where the antiviral medication is taken daily.
To reduce pain and discomfort, try the following:
• soaking the affected area in salt water
• taking pain relieving medication such as paracetamol
• sparing use of topical anesthetics
It can be difficult to cope with a diagnosis of herpes, especially genital herpes as much stigma is attached to the disease. Genital herpes can be thought of as cold sores in the genital area and you should not feel guilty or ashamed, or as a serious barrier to a loving relationship. If you are having trouble coping, you can seek the help of a counselor or a support group. They will be able to provide you with more information on how to cope.
There are some alternative therapies that may help you. These include:
• Echinacea* - this may have an antiseptic action against the herpes virus.
• L-lysine* - this can reduce the frequency of herpes outbreaks or the time it takes for the sores to heal.
• Zinc* - when directly applied to the sores, it may help them to heal faster. Be aware that when applied to inflamed tissue, it can cause stinging or burning.
• Bee products* - when applied directly to sores, products such as honey or propolis can reduce the healing time.
• Tea tree oil* - can work as an antiseptic if applied directly to the sores.
• Diet* - the herpes virus requires Arginine to function and lysine can inhibit the activity of the virus. Foods that are high in lysine include tuna, turkey, chicken, salmon, ricotta cheese, cheddar cheese, sardines, and yoghurt. Foods that are high in Arginine include almonds, cashews, avocado, and peanuts. Try and avoid these foods. Beta-carotene strengthens the immune system and helps to inhibit viruses. Vitamin C and zinc can inhibit herpes attacks. Vitamin E can help to relieve the pain of an outbreak as well as shortening its duration.
• Stress reduction techniques – taking the time to relax and control the amount of stress in your life can have an affect on how often you suffer from outbreaks. You could try specific relaxation therapies such as meditation or try other things that you find relaxing. These could include reading a book, seeing friends, watching a movie, exercise, and so forth.
* - Please seek the advice of a qualified professional such as a naturopath, nutritionist, dietician or herbalist before taking any of these remedies as they may interfere with other substances that you are taking whether herbal or medication.