Control and Prevention of Herpes and Cold Sores
Control and Prevention of Herpes and Cold Sores
Four viruses from the family of Herpes viridae are known to cause human infections. Varicella-zoster causes chicken pox and shingles; Epstein-Barr causes infectious mononucleosis; Cytomegalo virus does not produce symptoms, but can cause severe infection in newborns and immune-compromised people; and Herpes simplex produces fever blisters or cold sores.
There are two types of Herpes simplex viruses.
Herpes simplex virus type-1 (HSV1) typically causes fever blisters or cold sores and afflicts between 25 to 40 per cent of populations.
Type-2 (HSV-2) causes one of the common and prevalent sexually transmitted disease affecting the genital tract. This genital Herpes simplex virus infection is increasing at the rate of 11 to 15 per cent per year. It can be very dangerous for infants born to infected mothers with active genital Herpes lesions. The virus has been reported to cause brain damage and blindness in infected infants.
Signs and Symptoms
The majority of primary Herpes simplex virus (HSV) infections (90 to 95 per cent) are without symptoms. Systemic symptoms of varying severity occur, including mild fever, malaise, irritability, headache and swelling of the lymph nodes. Both facial-oral and genital Herpes cause painful, fluid-filled blisters which are highly infectious. In facial-oral Herpes, sores usually appear on the lips, mouth (also called canker) or both, within two to seven days of initial exposure to the virus. In primary disease in children, blisters occasionally appear on the skin of the face, around the lips and on the upper neck.
The first sign of genital Herpes is a mild tingling pain and burning, followed by blister formation around the rectum, clitoris, cervix and vagina, or the penis, groin and scrotum. In both males and females, it is often associated with watery discharge and painful urination. The incubation time is about four to eight days before the symptoms appear. Sometimes the symptoms are very mild. They can either not be noticed or may be associated with itching, burning, sores, fever, headache and flu-like symptoms. Within seven days the blisters erupt and lead to ulcer formation and then healing begins. Usually there is no scarring after healing. Recurrent eruptions are very common in both facial-oral and genital Herpes infections but are not as severe as the initial ones.
Chicken pox and shingles are different manifestations of infections caused by the Herpes Varicella-zoster virus (VZV). A variety of complications may occur as a consequence of chicken pox, which most commonly affects humans at an early age. These may pose a serious problem in immune-compromised individuals. The incubation time is 14 to 15 days and secondary attacks in susceptible individuals within a household range from 70 to 90 per cent.
Children who get chicken pox when they are young usually have a mild self-limited infection. However, if they miss the chicken pox in their childhood and get infected later on in life, the infection can be very severe and complications are common. Because of this some parents intentionally expose their children to others with chicken pox so they can get over it sooner. This practice is safe, but is not recommended for children under one year of age, children who are immune-compromised, and children on oral corticosteroid treatment.
Shingles is a painful skin eruption caused by reactivation of a latent infection with the Varicella-zoster virus. Factors triggering reactivation includes advancing age, immunosuppressant drugs such as corticosteroids, surgery, trauma and stress. The skin rash begins with one or more discolored spots on the skin (macules). Within days, blisters develop which rupture and form ulcers. Crusts form which often progress to scars. It could be associated with no pain or very severe pain.
Modes of Transmission
Blisters caused by the Herpes viruses are highly infectious. The virus can also be transmitted from infected individuals without them having severe outbreak of infection. Recent research indicates that both HSV-1 and HSV-2 can infect either the mouth or the genitals or both, and oral sex can spread the virus from one place to the other. It can be transmitted from an active lesion by kissing and therefore one should avoid kissing individuals with active facial-oral Herpes lesions. Those with active lesions should avoid intimate contacts with their partners and others. Mothers with active genital outbreak of HSV during child delivery can easily transmit the virus to their infants. In such a case, the infant should be kept under strict observation for the HSV symptoms.
Control and Prevention
Once the Herpes viruses enter the body, they never leave. They remain silent within certain nerve cells, where the immune system cannot find them without causing trouble. Factors such as sun exposure, corticosteroids, fatigue, cold weather, stress, pregnancy and the menstrual cycle activate the virus and enhance the chance of recurrent infections. Avoiding or substantially reducing the virus-activating factors will be of great help in preventing recurrent infection.
Recent research shows that genital Herpes can be transmitted from infected people without them having symptoms. The only safe way to prevent genital Herpes is to avoid sex, or to remain in a monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner. Intimate contact should be strictly avoided during active outbreak of infection. Regular use of latex condoms with spermicide may reduce the risk of getting infected, but does not prevent it.
The probability of children getting the virus from an elder with shingles blisters, either by touching the blister directly or indirectly through contaminated hands, is very high. Elders with shingles should avoid close contact with their younger dear ones. Washing hands, especially after touching or scratching the lesions, is highly recommended to avoid the spreading of the virus in the household.
Unfortunately there is no medication (conventional or herbal) which cures the Herpes infection or even prevents it from recurring. Mild recurrences require no treatment in most cases. Acyclovir (Zovirax), an antiviral drug introduced in 1979, reduces the rate of growth of the Herpes virus and severity of cold sores and shingles. It does not prevent Herpes from recurring, nor its transmission from an infected person to others.
If taken by mouth, potential adverse reactions with Acyclovir include headache, menstrual irregularities, confusion, lethargy, agitation, low blood pressure, vomiting and diarrhea. It also may increase the adverse side effects from interferon (often used in treatment of Hepatitis c) and methotrexate (mostly used in case of psoriasis). It should not be used for Herpes of the eye. Acyclovir is not recommended for children under the age of 12.
Parents should strictly avoid giving aspirin to their children with chicken pox. They can develop a severe and sometimes fatal condition called Reye's syndrome. Children with this condition usually have repeated vomiting and lethargy.
Natural products containing L-Lysine (an amino acid) when taken orally or used topically have shown very promising results. Topical application of tea tree oil has reported to be of great help in reducing the severity of cold sores. Other herbal products prepared from capsicum, echinacea, red clover and St John's wort have reported to be having very promising results in reducing the Herpes virus symptoms and boosting the immune system.
Antioxidants and flavonoids from grape seeds and black seeds will be of great help. Normal routine doses of vitamins (A, B, and c), herbal tea, fruit juice, plenty of water and rest will enhance the process of recovery in all Herpes virus infections. In case of shingles and chicken pox, the addition of baking soda to the bath water will reduce the severity of itch on the lesions.
The best prevention and cure for Herpes infection is a natural, protein-rich diet and plenty of antioxidant dietary supplements.
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By Syed Toora