HSV: Herpes Simplex Virus

Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) is a sexually transmitted infection that consists of two strands: HSV-1 and HSV-2. The virus is often characterized by recurrent, painful vesicular eruptions of the skin and mucosa in the area of infection. Traditionally, HSV-1 was associated with oral or oral-genital contact and fever blisters whereas HSV-2 was associated with vesicular blisters in the genital area. However, that distinction no longer can be made, and an increasing number of genital infections are the cause of genital lesions and infections. Genital herpes is one of the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States, but as many as 85% of individuals with HSV-2 antibodies are not aware they are infected.

Herpes infections are characterized by an initial, or “primary”, infection and usually consists of both systemic flu-like symptoms (may include fever, body aches) in addition to localized lesions at the site of infection (typically the vulva). Recurrent infections are typically much less severe and only involve an outbreak in the localized area of the lesions. They do not normally consist of the same generalized pain and systemic symptoms.

Herpes simplex virus is spread when one individual is actively shedding the virus and transmits it to another individual. This may or may not be in the presence of a visible vesicle or ulceration. For this reason, women are sometimes unable to know if their partner is infected before they are transmitted the virus.

The herpes simplex virus can be tested for in one of two ways: either by taking a direct sample from a vesicle during an active initial or recurrent stage or through an antibody blood test. If a patient tests positive for HIV 1 or 2 IgG antibodies, it means they have already been exposed to the virus in the past. Antibodies are created in response to a virus, and take a while to accumulate. HSV type specific antibody tests can be useful in confirming diagnosis in an individual with a history of fever blisters or genital lesions.

For those who may have recently found out they have HSV antibodies or recently had a HSV outbreak, the website www.westoverheights.com is a useful resource. Review this handbook on the herpes virus and then ask your provider any other questions you may have pertaining to the virus.

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