Herpes is a huge family of viruses that cause a multitude of skin conditions and other illnesses. They are among the most common viral infections in humans, second only to flu and cold viruses.
- As many as 60% of adults in the United States carry the oral herpes virus, more commonly referred to as cold sores. The herpes simplex virus causes fluid-filled blisters that last from 1 week to 1 month, eventually drying and scabbing over.
- Shortly after infection, most people experience a stinging, itching or tingling feeling in the area (near their mouth or genitals) where blisters will shortly develop. Early symptoms may also include a fever, sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, muscle aches and headaches. Small, often painful blisters appear within a few days. After the blisters break, the skin underneath is typically very sensitive and sore.
Symptoms: The first outbreak, which usually occurs from a few days to a few weeks after initial infection, is typically the most severe. The symptoms tend to be less disruptive in subsequent outbreaks.
Get Medical Help If:
- You suspect you have contracted herpes
- You cannot manage the pain or itching with over-the-counter remedies
- You see signs of an infection such as swelling, a high fever, and pus or other discharge.
- The rash does not show any signs of improvement after 10 days
Is it contagious? Yes. Herpes is transmitted by contact with the infectious particles that are present in the fluid-filled blisters, and can be present in other body fluids. The virus may be transmittable even if there are no visible blisters.
- Your doctor may prescribe an antiviral drug for you to take during the first outbreak, and may advise you to take antivirals whenever you feel that another outbreak is coming on.
- If you have frequent outbreaks, your doctor may recommend that you take an antiviral drug daily.
- Lukewarm baths (for genital herpes, you might want to purchase a sitz bath – a plastic basin that fits over your toilet seat – which can be more convenient than filling the tub every time you want a soak), compresses, an ice pack applied to the blisters, a blow dryer set on cool, and over-the-counter analgesics or astringents may help ease discomfort. Ask your doctor for recommendations on how to best reduce the itching and irritation.
- MedlinePlus, the National Institutes of Health’s Website
- Shinglesinfo.com (stats on chickenpox and shingles, contagious facts, symptoms)