How Do You Get Herpes?

What You Didn’t Know About Herpes

Herpes is a contagious infection caused by Herpes Simplex Virus, commonly abbreviated as HSV. Naming and classification of herpes infections depend on the part of the body infected. Thus, oral herpes is a form of herpes infection that causes sores and lesions around the mouth. Genital herpes, as the name suggests is another form of herpes infecting areas around the genitalia, buttocks and the anal region. Genital herpes is transmissible sexually and is one of the mostly spread STIs. The condition could be life-threatening in people with weak immunity and in new-born babies. The question of how do you get herpes, will be better answered by first reviewing the different types of herpes virus.

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how do you get herpes

Types of Herpes Complex Virus

Herpes virus exists in two different types, HSV-1 and HSV-2. HSV-1 causes oral herpes, commonly known as cold sores. HSV-2, on the other hand, causes genital herpes. However, an infection caused by HSV-2 can be transmitted from the genital region to the mouth or a HSV-1 infection to the genital region.

The HSV spreads through direct contact. It may cause sores on the part of the skin the virus used when entering the body. The sores may then develop into painful, itchy blisters that heal by themselves after sometime. It is common for a person suffering from herpes to experience several outbreaks of the disease in a year. Medicines that boost the immune system are used to decrease the outbreaks and lessen the symptoms.

How do you Get Herpes?

The herpes virus has a double-stranded DNA molecule enveloped in an icosahedral capsid. The virus infects about 40 million Americans in their mid ages.

The virus gains access to the body through genital or oral transmissions. After entering the body, it penetrates the primary sensory nerve cells located in the deeper layers of the skin. Once inside the nerve cell, the virus injects its DNA into the nucleus of the cell. The viral DNA molecule is then incorporated into the DNA of the nerve cell where it starts replicating and producing viral particles. This process destroys the nerve cell’s ability to conduct its normal activities. Moreover, immune responses lead to destruction of the infected cells, leading to inflammation and formation of lesions around the infected region.

As the phase of primary infection comes to an end, the virus has already produced enough viral particles that are then transported from the skin to the ganglia through branches of the nerve cells. The viral particles persist in a dormant form in the ganglia for some time, until they transform into active forms causing another cycle of infection. These cycles recur several times in a year causing what is medically referred to as herpes outbreaks. In extreme infections, the virus can affect the trachea, oesophagus, the eye balls and the brain.

The rate of recurrence of HSV-2 is higher at around 80% after the first outbreak, while recurrence of HSV-1 is less frequent, usually at 20%-40% after the first outbreak. Recurrence is usually initiated by such factors as emotional stress, immune suppression, fever, menstruation or exposure to direct sunlight for a long length of time.

Genital Herpes Infection in Men

Symptoms of genital herpes are shorter and milder in men than in women, although the frequency of recurrence is higher in men by about 20%. The initial infection in men is usually associated with discomfort while urinating, as the only symptom. Sores on the tip of the penis accompanied by a burning sensation when passing urine are common in severe cases. Cases of a clear discharge coming from the penis have also been reported.

Other symptoms of herpes infection in men include;

  • Muscle aches
  • Tiredness
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Enlargement of the lymph nodes.

Men are advised to use condoms during intercourse to prevent infection.

Genital Herpes Infection in Women

Female infection is usually characterized by formation of lesions around the vagina, inside the vagina, on the cervix or around the anal opening. The lesions may become filled with fluids and ulcerate. The condition is also associated with swelling of the lymph glands around the groin. Women who have never been infected with HSV type 1 are at higher risk of contracting HSV type 2.

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Note: This Page was last updated on Monday 25th of March 2019

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