Herpes is the collective name for a group of contagious DNA viruses that remain in your body once contracted and can cause several infections over a person's lifetime. The most common infections caused by the herpes virus include genital herpes, shingles and cold sores. The herpes virus can sometimes lie dormant in your system for years at a time but can awaken sporadically, causing discomfort and pain.
The herpes virus is more common than many people realise; most people who caught chickenpox as a child have some kind of the virus within their body. Chickenpox is caused by a variant of the virus known as herpes zoster. Herpes zoster is one of the milder strains of this virus, but it can cause shingles later in life which can be very painful. Cold sores and genital herpes belong to the herpes simplex strain of the virus. Genital herpes is highly contagious and one of the more serious infections, which is caught through unprotected intercourse.
It is best to start treatment as soon as possible when you experience an outbreak of symptoms because this will help you to recover quicker and minimise the discomfort you feel. The most popular anti-viral treatments for outbreaks of herpes simplex and herpes zoster are Valtrex and Famvir. These treatments work by preventing the spread of the virus, pushing it back into a dormant state
Cold sores are very common and characterised by fluid-filled blisters that appear on or around the mouth. Cold sores are usually caused by a different strain of the herpes simplex virus; most of us contract this virus during childhood, with symptoms only appearing after puberty. The virus is highly contagious and can be passed from one person to another by kissing or sharing a toothbrush or razor.
Most adults who contract the virus tend to display symptoms a few weeks after contracting it. If left untreated, the cold sore symptoms can take up to two weeks to heal completely. Some people may be more susceptible to outbreaks and experience regular cold sores every year while others may only notice symptoms twice a year or less.
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Shingles is an uncomfortable and sometimes very painful rash that is caused by the herpes zoster virus; the same virus that causes chickenpox. After an outbreak of chickenpox, the virus still remains in your body and lies dormant in your nerve cells. In some people the virus can be reactivated in later life, when it produces a rash, or shingles.
Not all people who've had chickenpox will get shingles and it's not entirely apparent what causes the herpes virus to become active again. Some people experience mild symptoms while other people experience a fever, general malaise and headaches. Some of the early symptoms that tend to appear before an actual outbreak are nerve pain, itching, and pins and needles in a specific area. Severe nerve pain can sometimes outlast the actual rash.
Unlike cold sores and genital herpes, shingles isn't contagious. But if you didn't have chickenpox as a child, you could contract it from someone with inflamed shingles symptoms.
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Genital herpes is a highly infectious sexually transmitted infection that's commonly caused by the herpes simplex virus. It usually manifests itself in uncomfortable and painful water blisters, red sores and ulcers on and around the genitals, buttocks, thighs and anus. Coming into physical contact with a person with active symptoms is how most people contract the virus, but it can be hard to avoid because in some cases the virus can spread even if the symptoms aren’t visible.
Genital herpes symptoms aren’t always noticeable straight away and it's estimated that almost 80% of people carrying the virus aren’t aware that they have it. In some cases, people may experience symptoms straight away with uncomfortable outbreaks recurring regularly for the first year or more after becoming infected.
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How do I treat herpes?
Anti-viral medications are recommended to most people wanting to treat an outbreak. The two most popular treatments available are Valtrex and Famvir. Both medications can be prescribed to treat cold sores, genital herpes and shingles, though the dosage will vary depending on your condition. If you are unsure about what dosage to use, you can find out more information by clicking on the links below.