Is Herpes Curable?

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A banana wearing a condom

Published: 08 October 2020

There is no cure for herpes, however, symptoms can be managed with antiviral medication so that it is possible to live a normal life. According to the World Health Organization, around half a billion worldwide have genital herpes and an estimated 3.7 billion people have oral herpes.

 

What is Herpes?

Herpes is an infection that is caused by the herpes simplex virus, also known as HSV. There are two variations of the herpes simplex virus, HSV-1 and HSV-2. Herpes is classified as a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI).

Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 (HSV-1)

HSV-1 is transmitted via oral to oral contact and causes symptoms such as cold sores, blisters around the mouth and fever. However, HSV-1 can also be transmitted to the genitals from oral sex causing genital herpes.

Herpes Simplex Virus Type 2 (HSV-2)

HSV-2 is transmitted via skin to skin contact around the genital area. It causes outbreaks of genital herpes that manifest as sores around the genitalia.

Herpes sores look like small round bumps that develop into fluid filled blisters. They can be red, yellow or white in colour. They are present for the duration of the outbreak but do go away once the episode is over. Genital herpes treatment can help to shorten the length of reduce the severity of an outbreak.

 

What causes Herpes and how is it spread?

Herpes is caused when a person who carries the virus makes direct contact with another person. The herpes virus can be transmitted and received through mucous membranes (moist linings in certain parts of the body such as the mouth, anus and vagina).

How is HSV-1 spread?

HSV-1 is mainly transmitted via oral contact. This can include kissing, oral sex, and sharing sexual toys. It is more common to spread HSV-1 through kissing, but it is possible to transfer the infection through oral sex, as well as vaginal and anal sex. HSV-1 is likely to manifest itself as sores around the mouth causing oral herpes, rather than genital herpes.

How is HSV-2 spread?

HSV-2 is almost always transmitted through anal or vaginal sex. This is because it lives near the base of the spine. There must be skin to skin contact for HSV-2 to be spread. A carrier of HSV-2 passes on the virus when areas of the skin that contain the virus make contact with the mucous membrane of an open area of skin of a non-carrier. It is not as likely for HSV-2 to be contracted via oral sex, but it is possible. This I because the mouth is lined with mucous membranes, therefore it can be spread via oral sex. If a carrier of HSV-2 in the genital region make contact with the mucous membrane of a non-carrier’s mouth, it can enter the nervous system causing oral herpes. Likewise, someone with HSV-2 around the oral region can transmit the infection by giving oral sex causing oral herpes.

 

How easily is Herpes spread?

Herpes is easily spread because many people who carry herpes simplex transmit the virus unknowingly. The herpes simplex virus may lay dormant in your nerves. When the virus is activated, it causes viral shedding, which causes the virus to replicate. This is known as an outbreak, which causes herpes symptoms such as sores. Herpes is most contagious when an outbreak occurs. It is possible for the virus to be active without symptoms and herpes can be transmitted easily this way.

Herpes cannot be spread by sharing towels, cutlery or from toilet seats, as the virus is unable to survive for long periods of time outside the human body.

 

How do you treat Genital Herpes?

Genital herpes is treated using antiviral medication such as aciclovir and valaciclovir, also known as Valtrex. They can be used to reduce the length and severity of an outbreak. They can also be used as a long-term treatment to prevent outbreaks in those that experience frequent episodes. This is known as suppression therapy. Suppressive therapy can reduce the number of outbreaks and lower the chances of passing the infection on.

Aciclovir

Treatment for an outbreak: Take one tablet (400mg) three times a day for 3-5 days.

Suppression treatment: Take one tablet (400mg) two times a day long term. Treatment should be reviewed every 6-12 months.

Valaciclovir (Valtrex)

Treatment for an outbreak: Take one tablet (500mg) two times a day for 3-5 days.

Suppression treatment: Take one tablet (500mg) a day long term. Treatment should be reviewed every 6-12 months.

Outbreaks can usually be managed with short term treatment. However, if you experience frequent episodes that are interfering with your life, you may wish to speak to your doctor or pharmacist about suppression treatment.

 

How can I stop my partner from catching Herpes?

There is no guarantee that you will be able to stop your partner from catching herpes, but there are measures that you can take to help prevent its transmission. Herpes is most contagious when you are experiencing an episode and you should abstain from sexual contact if you are experiencing an outbreak. The use of barrier methods such as condoms can also reduce the risk of transmission, but it is important to note that there are areas of the skin that cannot be covered where sores may be present. Suppression therapy with antivirals can also significantly reduce the risk of passing the infection on to your partner. Herpes can be caught even when symptoms are not present, and the use of suppressive therapy with barrier methods such as condoms can help to lower the risk of transmission.

 

How can you test for Herpes?

It is difficult to test for herpes because many people who have the infection have no symptoms and do not know they have it. Symptoms may also be mild which means they go unnoticed.

Herpes Blood Test

Herpes blood tests are usually not recommended because diagnosing someone who does not show symptoms has not proven to show a change in sexual habits (e.g. avoiding sex or using a condom). Furthermore, false positive results are possible, and the stigma and shame attached to having herpes can affect a person’s mental well-being. If you test positive and show no symptoms, it is difficult to determine what the course of action should be.

Herpes Swab Test

This is the most recommended test and are widely available as a herpes test kit. Herpes swab tests include taking a sample from the liquid inside the sores. If you test positive from a swab test, you can be sure that the virus is present, and a plan of action can be discussed with your doctor.

 

Herpes cannot be cured, but it is not such a big deal

Whilst there is no cure for herpes, it can be managed using antiviral medication and barrier methods. Herpes is a condition that affects millions of people around the world and people with herpes have normal relationships. You should be open and honest with your sexual partner, as this can potentially avoid complications further on into a relationship. Pregnant women are at an increased risk of passing on herpes to their child and those that have herpes are at an increased risk of catching HIV when exposed to the disease. Honest discussions can help to manage complicated situations and preserve integrity.

 

Sources

https://www.healthline.com/health/herpes-simplex

https://www.herpes.org.nz/herpes-patient-info/herpes-relationships

https://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/screening.htm