Herpes virus often will not present with any symptoms and people may not know they have the virus. When a person experiences an outbreak, he or she may experience tingling, itching, or burning and will break out in sores or blisters. Specific symptoms of the two main types of herpes are discussed in the following section.
Herpes Simplex 1. Herpes simplex 1 (HSV-1) is the virus that causes oral herpes or cold sores. Once you are exposed, you have this type of herpes for life. It is very contagious and transmitted by oral secretions. Most people with HSV-1 are infected with the virus in childhood or early adulthood through non-sexual contact with saliva. This type can also cause genital herpes and be transmitted to babies during birth.
The symptoms of HSV-1 include:
- Cold sores or fever blisters on or around the mouth
- Ulcers in the genital area
Herpes Simplex 2. Herpes simplex 2 (HSV-2) is a sexually transmitted disease (STD). It causes painful ulcers in the genital area and the infection stays in your body for life. The ulcers appear periodically and can be transmitted when the virus is active in the body. This condition has a profound impact on the sufferer’s relationships and emotional health. Infants that are infected with herpes during birth have an increased chance of severe complications. The virus is transmitted via body fluids and genital skin even if ulcers are not present.
The symptoms of HSV-2 include:
- Genital Blisters
- Genital Ulcers (sores)
- Body aches
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Shooting pain to lower body
A common misconception is that HSV-2 cannot be transmitted when the virus is not active and there are no ulcers. Use caution anytime you have sex because the virus can be active without any signs or symptoms. When this happens the virus can be transmitted directly from clear skin.
If you are suffering from ulcers on your mouth or genitals, you will need to see the doctor during the outbreak. The doctor will look at the lesions and can usually tell if they are herpes by sight. They may want to confirm with testing. This can be done by taking a swab of the fluid and sending it off to the lab to test for the virus. There are also blood tests that can diagnose herpes, but they are not as accurate as testing the fluid from the ulcers.
There are treatments to relieve outbreaks of herpes, but there is no cure. When an outbreak happens, the ulcers often clear up on their own without medication. Doctors can prescribe antiviral medications that can shorten the time of outbreaks and help with symptoms.
- Antiviral cream for itching and burning
- Oral antiviral medications
These medications are taken every day during an outbreak to help shorten the course. Antivirals also reduce how contagious herpes is and may prevent others from catching it.
Alternative Treatments and Home Remedies
Aloe vera. Aloe has been used for hundreds, maybe even thousands of years to relieve skin conditions. Some studies show aloe vera gel used on the lesions may help with symptoms.
Rhubarb. In Switzerland, a study was done on rhubarb and it showed results that were almost as good as some of the antivirals used for herpes. It was used topically, but researchers say more studies are needed.
Lemon balm. Lemon balm used topically may help reduce the symptoms of cold sores. People who used this experienced relief in about 2 days.
Bee propolis. Bee propolis contains a high level of antioxidants that can increase the immune system’s ability to fight the herpes virus. Studies show that propolis ointment healed the herpes lesions faster than the antiviral creams. This should not be used by people who are allergic to bee stings.
Zinc oxide. Some studies show that zinc oxide may help the lesions heal quicker and even quicker with creams made from zinc oxide and lysine. Use zinc in small amounts and watch for drug interactions with antibiotics and chemotherapy drugs.
L-lysine. This essential amino acid has been shown in studies to inhibit the replication of HSV and shorten the duration of the disease. Research has shown that a daily oral dose of 300-1000mg of oral L-lysine accelerated the recovery period from an outbreak and may prevent its recurrence. Topical application of the amino acid may help to reduce symptoms and speed recovery as well.
Do not share anything that touches the oral area. With anyone, ever! You never know who has herpes and who does not. Do not drink after anyone, share lipstick/lip balm, or share used eating utensils. Even kids with cold sores are contagious.
Use condoms and know your partner. The best way to prevent sexually transmitted diseases is to always use a condom if you are not in a long-term monogamous relationship. Discuss with your partner about their history and even discuss getting tested for STDs before entering a relationship. Understand that with herpes, even though the condom covers the actual sexual organs, it may not protect against lesions elsewhere in the pelvic area. The best way to prevent this is to abstain from sex during a herpes outbreak.
Do not kiss anyone with visible cold sores. If you notice someone has a cold sore, refrain from kissing them even on the cheek. Avoid other close contacts such as rubbing noses, frontal hugging, and touching their face with your hands.
Use lubricant during sex. Friction during sex can break open the skin and increase the risk of transmission, especially if someone doesn’t know they have the virus.
Eat healthily. Beef up your immune system to fight off viruses like herpes by eating a healthy diet, Including foods high in lysine, zinc, and antioxidants.
Lysine foods. Lean beef and turkey, parmesan cheese, soy, pumpkin seeds, and eggs.
Zinc foods. Oysters, lean beef, wheat germ, spinach, and pumpkin seeds.
Antioxidant foods. Fruits and vegetables rich in color, tea, red beans, and wild blueberries.
Watch for outbreak symptoms. Keep an eye out for the symptoms of an outbreak. Get treated as soon as symptoms begin to shorten the outbreak. Studies show that 80 to 90 percent of herpes sufferers don’t have any outbreaks, but 60 percent do have them with recognizable symptoms before onset.
Keep skin clean and dry. When you are having an outbreak, shower daily and put clean clothes on. Make sure you wash your hands after using the restroom or touching the lesions. Use a wet washcloth in the shower to open the lesions and clean them well. Place the washcloth directly into the washing machine. Clean the open blisters with an astringent solution daily. This will help kill the virus in the fluid. Cover the lesions with a gauze pad to prevent spreading the virus.
Get plenty of rest. Herpes becomes part of your nervous system after infection and if you are tired, you will have a hard time fighting off the virus. If you overdo things, you see the outbreak get worse instead of better. Make sure you get 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night during outbreaks.
Reduce stress. Stress can cause the virus to get worse. If you are under pressure at work, home, or financially then you may experience longer outbreaks. If you find yourself having more outbreaks closer together, you may need to take steps to manage the stress in your life. Try taking up meditation, go for walks, or talk to someone you trust about things going on in your life. If herpes is a source of stress for you, try joining a support group so you can talk with others who understand.
Wear loose clothing. During outbreaks, make sure you wear loose and comfortable clothing. Your underwear should not be too constricting, and clothing should breathe to prevent bacterial infection in the lesions.
Stay out of the sun. While it is not completely understood why the ultraviolet light from the sun can make oral (HSV-1) worse. If you are having an outbreak of cold sores, use face cream and/or lip balm with sunscreen and cover your head with a hat. If you are having an outbreak in the genital area, avoid sunbathing or tanning beds until the lesions clear up.
Eat foods containing lysine. The amino acid lysine is helpful to prevent outbreaks or shorten their duration. Eat foods high in lysine including; meat proteins, soybeans, and cow’s milk.
Centers for Disease Control. (2017, August). Genital herpes: CDC fact sheet. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/Genital-herpes-FS.pdf
Fletcher, J. (2019, March 14). What causes recurrent cold sores? Retrieved from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324707
Grinde, Bjørn. (2013, October 25). Herpesvirus: latency and reactivation – viral strategies and host response. Journal of Oral Microbiology, 5. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3809354/
Singh, B. B., et. al. (2005, July). Safety and effectiveness of an L-lysine, zinc, and herbal-based product on the treatment of facial and circumoral herpes. Alternative Medicine Review: a Journal of Clinical Therapeutic, 10(2), 123-127. Retrieved from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/7755416_Safety_and_effectiveness_of_an_L-lysine_zinc_and_herbal-based_product_on_the_treatment_of_facial_and_circumoral_herpes
World Health Organization. (2020, May 01). Herpes simplex virus. Retrieved from: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/herpes-simplex-virus