by Vladimire Herard
Against the backdrop of an ever-emerging pandemic with COVID, monkeypox, polio and respiratory tract disease, the World Health Organization, the Food and Drug Administration and their partners are promoting vaccines, treatment, research and public consciousness about herpes.
Both the WHO and the FDA are seeking to expand research and education about the sexually transmitted disease or STD, also known as herpes simplex virus 1 and 2 or HSV-1 and HSV-2, boost access to antiviral drugs and support HIV prevention for those with genital herpes such as pre-exposure prophylaxis and oral herpes.
They also aim for preventive measures for herpes such as vaccines and topical anti-bacterial treatments.
There is no cure and the FDA has not approved a vaccine for herpes but there are candidates in clinical trials such as Moderna mRNA-1608. One trial exhibited promise among women subjects with partners with HSV-2 but only women without HSV-1.
Herpes takes on one of two forms: genital herpes and oral herpes. Occupying the nerve cells of the body, it spreads through person-to-person contact from oral, vaginal and anal sex.
Some cases contain no symptoms or are not recognized but herpes can lead to painful blisters and ulcers. In some cases, a person may not even know they carry herpes and may transmit it to another individual.
Oral herpes is contracted through oral contact and is also known as herpes type 1 or HSV-1. The condition causes cold sores or infections in or around the mouth. It also leads to genital herpes and is common among most adults with the illness in general.
Genital herpes is obtained by genital contact and is also known as herpes type 2 or HSV-2.
Most sufferers lack symptoms or mild ones, which include blisters or ulcers that recur in the long term. Medicines can scale back on symptoms but don’t provide a cure.
Global and National Reach
About 3.7 billion people under the age of 50 or 67 percent worldwide have herpes type 1, the WHO research reports.
Meanwhile, close to 491 million persons aged 15 to 49 or 13 percent globally have herpes type 2. Infection with herpes type 2 bolsters the chance of receiving and spreading HIV, the agency’s research reveals.
Nationwide, more than half of all adults with herpes have the oral version. In fact, some research reports that 80 percent of adults around the country with the disease have oral herpes.
Roughly 572,000 new cases of herpes occur annually, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, reports.
Nearly 88 percent of individuals with genital herpes in the age range of 14 to 49 years have not been diagnosed.
Women are twice as likely to be infected with herpes type 2 as men because the illness is more easily communicated from men to women.
The disease becomes stronger with age but the greatest number of new infections is among teenagers.
New cases with symptoms cause aches and pains, eye infection, fever, headaches, painful urination, sore throats and swollen lymph nodes. Symptoms also include tingling, itching or burning near the sores.
Triggers that activate the virus include emotional stress, exposure to the sun, pre-existing fever or illness, a compromised immune system, injury, menstrual period or surgery.
Physicians recommend that oral herpes patients avoid oral contact with others and using any objects stained by saliva. Genital herpes patients are asked not to engage in sex while undergoing symptoms.
For sexually active individuals, the best defense against genital herpes or other STIs is the proper use of a condom. Condoms cut back on occurrence but herpes infections can take place through contact with genital or anal areas not protected by condoms.
Dental dams can also protect those at risk of contracting oral herpes.
Male circumcision can also protect against herpes type 2 as well as HIV and human papillomavirus or HPV in the long term.
Additionally, patients of undiagnosed illness whose symptoms mimick genital herpes should be afforded HIV testing.
Pregnant women with genital herpes should consult with their doctors and specialists for treatment and counseling.
It is crucial that women are assisted in helping prevent herpes type 2 infection during the late term of their pregnancies. In turn, with such prevention, their fetuses and newborns won’t be exposed to the condition.
Oral and genital herpes are diagnosed based on the identifiable symptoms. Diagnoses are confirmed by viral culture or herpes DNA fluid in blisters. A blood test for antibodies can verify a prior infection but can be negative for new ones.
Medications are used to treat the first cases of herpes. These drugs can address the length and severity of the symptoms but they don’t provide a cure. Treatments are most successful when they start within the first two days of the onset of symptoms.
Aciclovir, one of many topical antiviral drugs used to treat the disease, is administered to pregnant women in their 36th week of pregnancy to restrict herpes recurrence and shedding during labor, ruling out the use of a Caesarean section.
The other antiviral medications include famiciclovir, valacyclovir, penciclovir and docosonal, all four of which decrease the severity of symptoms and lower the risk of transmission with the use of a condom.
All five drugs are effective in treating herpes but aciclovir is considered the safest.
Some medicines have off-label uses for herpes. For example, the anti-HIV drug tenofovir is used as an antibacterial vaginal gel, which has been discovered by research to decrease the spread of herpes by half.
Yet more medications treat the individual symptoms of herpes. Painkillers have been used to lessen the pain of sores and body aches and pains and fever such as ibuprofen, paracetamol, a form of acetaminophen, and naproxen.
Still other drugs such as prilocaine, lidocaine, benzocaine or tetracaine have addressed the itching and painful aspects of herpes.
More Forms of Relief
Researchers and physicians also recommend a variety of personal practices at home to help relieve the symptoms of herpes even further.
For oral herpes, they include the following:
- Consume cold drinks and sucking on popsicles;
- Use OTC painkillers;
- Avoid sun exposure, and;
- Wear sunscreen.
For genital herpes, they include the following:
- Sit in a warm, salted bath without soap;
- Wear loose clothing to stop skin irritation;
- Use OTC medications;
- Pour water from a bottle on the skin to decrease the pain of blisters;
- Place aloe vera gel on sores;
- Apply petroleum jelly to sores, and;
- Use ice packs or ice wrapped in a cloth on the skin.
Additionally, herpes patients are overwhelmed with depression, fear of rejection, social isolation as they are too ashamed to share news of their illness with families and friends, fear of being discovered and feelings of self-destruction as a result of their condition and its diagnosis.
To alleviate the emotional pain and grief brought on by the illness, doctors may direct patients to medical support groups in the United States, Canada, the UK and Europe. The groups distribute information about herpes, lead message forums and manage dating sites for patients.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
- Mayo Clinic
- Medical News Today,
- Planned Parenthood,
- The World Health Organization or WHO,