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What Is Herpes?
Herpes tends to be a recurrent illness. In this article, we will explore cold sores and genital herpes; identify the causative agents and discus how to prevent herpes outbreaks.
Herpes infections are caused by viruses and are closely related to viruses which cause chickenpox, shingles, mononucleosis Epstein-Barr and some eye and neurological disorders. There are eight readily identifiable members of the herpes family of viruses which are collectively known as “herpesviruses” (one word).
Whilst the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1) is responsible for cold sores, the genital variant of the virus (HSV-2) is responsible for infecting somewhere between 40 and 60 million Americans, making it the most common sexually transmitted disease in America. According to CDC, 1 in 6 Americans between 14 and 49 years of age has genital herpes. Genital herpes results in sores, blisters and skin lesions in the genital and anal areas of sufferers. In its early stages, the disease is likely to recur as many as six times per year. Unfortunately, it is possible to transmit the infection when the lesions have apparently healed meaning that it can be unwittingly passed between sexual partners.
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Genital Herpes Symptoms
Whilst most cases of genital herpes are caused by the HSV-2 strain, it is thought that up to a third of cases may be spread by the HSV-1, cold sore, strain. Typically, symptoms will appear between 4 and 7 days following infection when vesicles will form. The vesicles can coalesce to become ulcers (an open wound that oozes fluid). Permanent scarring may result from the lesions and these tend to occur on the penile shaft; glans and foreskin in men and on the skin that covers the clitoris; vagina; labia; cervix or perineum in women. They will also occur around the anus and in the rectum of individuals who partake of receptive anal sex, in men and women.
Typically, the first episode is likely to be more painful, longer lasting and widespread than subsequent flare-ups. Inflammation of lymph nodes is more likely to occur during the initial episode as the body’s immune system first fights the virus. Consequently, the initial episode can be accompanied by fever and flu-like symptoms; tiredness; headaches and an unusual sensitivity to bright light. A sore throat can also occur if there is also an oral herpes infection; resulting from kissing or having oral sex with an infected person. The first genital herpes episode may last from 3 to 4 weeks and can involve a secondary eruption of vesicles before the initial episode finally subsides.
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Why Does Herpes Recur?
Roughly 4/5ths of people with genital herpes will suffer recurrent outbreaks and half of those people with HSV-1 cold sores will also have repeated outbreaks. The reason for this high incidence of repeat episodes is that the virus hides itself in nerve root cells where it is largely safe from the body’s immune system, lying dormant between episodes. This is why modern medicines are ineffective at preventing future outbreaks.
Perhaps nature, rather than modern medicine knows how to prevent herpes outbreaks from recurring. Since the dawn of man, herbs, plants and their extracts have been used to treat a wide variety of conditions and diseases. Indeed, modern pharmacology has its roots (if you’ll pardon the pun) firmly in these traditional remedies which have been used as the starting molecules for many of modern medicine’s most potent and effective drugs (morphine is derived from poppies; aspirin comes from the bark of the willow tree, etc).
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Many natural remedies are claimed to be able to speed healing of the wounds associated with herpes and some are claimed to prevent recurrence. Since it is not possible to patent a plant or an extract from one, some of these plants have had little attention, but some serious research has been done on them which has shown anti-viral and antimicrobial properties in some cases.
Usually, these “natural” preparations are available over the counter as treatments for herpes either in a mixture of “active” ingredients or as a single product. These preparations are not sold as medicines and do not need to be as rigorously tested (or tested at all, for that matter). The most promising plants that seem to offer protection against the recurrence of herpes outbreaks through anti-viral activity are: Prunella vulgaris (a Chinese herb); Chamomile; St John’s wort; Lemon balm; Calendula; Clove; Bergamot and Liquorice root extract.
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- CDC Genital Herpes Fact Sheet: http://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/stdfact-herpes.htm