What are the triggers for herpes?

Humans are certainly not the only organism to only live on this earth. As a matter of fact, many other organisms, small or big ones exist in a human life, creating connection and a chain of reaction in life. Thus, it is no surprise that humans can get sick from diseases that occur from organisms such as bacteria or viruses. In this DoctorOnCall’s article, we will learn more about herpes and learn triggers that can be helpful for those with herpes to avoid or manage.

Herpes, usually associated with presentation of skin infection, is actually an inflammation of the sensory nerves. When the DNA of the herpes which initially stays in the brain’s base (ganglia) replicates to become a group of viruses then travels down the nerve and causes skin blisters. Herpes can be caused by Herpes Simplex Virus of HSV-1 and HSV-2. In short, HSV-1 typically causes cold sores around the mouth area and HSV-2 mainly causes genital herpes. The word ‘herpes’ itself sure sounds terrifying for those diagnosed with one on top of the pain in the blisters or ulcers and skin around it.

HSV is very contagious and easily spreads either sexual contact or oral contact. Most people with herpes do not have symptoms or only have mild symptoms that may resemble other infections. This makes the disease go unaware or unnoticed and causes the infection to be easily passed from one person to another accidentally. Common symptoms are the painful and recurring blisters or ulcers. This may be accompanied by body aches, fever and swollen lymph nodes. At the start of the disease, it usually shows signs of itching, tingling or burning sensation to the sores. Blisters may break open, ooze and form a crust. A person with herpes may have repeating episodes of the symptoms but it is often shorter and less severe than the first one.

Due to the fact that recurrent or repeated outbreak of the herpes can cause discomfort to the patient, knowing the trigger can help patients to learn on identifying it and to take actions on coping with it. Common triggers include exposure to sunlight, emotional stress, illness, fever, menstrual period and surgery. Outbreak can happen due to activation of HSV. HSV lives within the nerve cells despite not causing symptoms. These viruses can be active and inactive with triggers being the common reasons for its activation.

Treatment of herpes aims to ease symptoms. Since herpes is caused by HSV virus, the main treatment is using antivirals such as acyclovir, valacyclovir and famciclovir. Antibiotics can be in the form of oral or topical. This will depend on where the affected area is and the severity of the disease itself. In some cases, treatment may not be needed as it can heal on its own. Some doctors may prescribe low doses of antiviral drugs to help lower the likelihood of the outbreaks. Apart from antiviral, pain relief medication such as paracetamol and anaesthesia effect medication such as lidocaine can help improve symptoms.

Herpes virus is quite sneaky to be living in a person’s body, long enough that it goes undetected by the human body’s immune system, concluding that herpes is incurable. Since it is incurable, available medicine and treatment only aims to prevent and shorten the duration of the attack or outbreaks. Knowing the trigger can indeed be a great way to avoid further outbreaks. However, due to the fact that in some cases it is difficult to know the triggers, it can still be hard for those diagnosed with herpes to know what to avoid on a daily basis. Furthermore, some triggers such as the menstrual period are inevitable, making a person have to endure it.

It is estimated that those under the age of 50 or representing 67% of the worldwide population are affected by HSV-1 infections and develop during childhood. HSV-2 infections are known to affect around 13% of sexually aged people. This shows that herpes is indeed a common disease but often goes off the radar due to the symptoms that seem mild or causing embarrassment due to the fear of being stigmatised.

The main issue with herpes that goes untreated is the chances of catching HIV infection. Herpes can be severe in those with immunocompromised and can cause complications such as severe brain infection such as encephalitis. Mother with HSV can pass the infection to her child during delivery and this itself can leave the baby with life-long neurologic disability or even death.

It can be concluded that herpes can be caused by either HSV-1 or HSV-2. When it is affected by HSV-1, it is known as oral herpes and when it is caused by HSV-2, it is known as genital herpes. Many of herpes go unnoticed as symptoms are mild or no symptoms at all. This has caused the transmission of viruses to be easy and rapid. Treatment usually revolves around antivirals. Herpes cannot be cured but knowing the trigger can help patients manage the outbreaks.