Soothing Balm: Herbal Relief for Herpes Outbreaks

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Soothing Balm: Herbal Relief for Herpes Outbreaks

Herbs to the rescue! Almost everybody suffers a herpes attack from time to time. These outbreaks vary from pesky to truly dangerous. For most of us, even though it's only a cold sore, the most we can do is up the B vitamins and buy some Blistex(TM) to help the pain. From there, luck takes over as we hope a huge sore doesn't form on our lips, hurt like heck, and last for an eternity. Now there's a natural remedy that works to ease the pain, limit the outbreak, and shorten its course.

Melissa officinalis, the common garden herb known as lemon balm, contains powerful oils which stop the cellular replication of the herpes virus. Now available in the U.S., Melissa extract in a cream base has been used throughout Western Europe to prevent and ameliorate herpes outbreaks for over a decade. Clinical trials show that when the cream is utilized at the first sign of an outbreak, pain is ameliorated, spread is arrested, swelling is decreased, the course is shortened, and in the case of chronic infections, the yearly number of outbreaks experienced is reduced.

The World Health Organization estimates that at one point or another 80 percent of the world's individuals are infected by some form of the herpes virus. Other estimates run as high as 96 percent. Viruses are transmitted from person to person with the initial contact generally occurring by the time we're five years old. Although this infection frequently goes unnoticed, the viruses remain in the body for life. It doesn't seem surprising to learn that such a tenacious entity has been known to humans for a long time. The ancient Greeks reported recurrent small and painful blisters, and the word herpes is Greek for "lingering damage."

The most common manifestation of a herpes outbreak is the occasional cold sore or fever blister; however, skin infections can cover large areas of the body and be agonizingly painful. In addition, some people experience chronic herpes problems. Literature surveyed for this issue reported persons who suffered up to 16 outbreaks every year. Five of the 70 varieties of this persistent virus affect humans. These are herpes simplex virus Types I and II, herpes zoster, CMV (cytomegalovirus), and Epstein-Barr. Problems caused by these viruses include chicken pox, shingles, mononucleosis, and birth defects.

The common herpes outbreaks being discussed here are caused by herpes simplex virus Types I and II. Before the major herpes epidemic of the 1980s, the two types were distinguished by location: above and below the waist. However, that distinction is no longer valid with both types occurring anywhere on the body. The most common sites being the mouth and genitals. Both types are spread by close contact, including wrestling and putting one's own contagious fingers in one's eye. (Herpes around the eye is particularly dangerous.)

The first sign of an infection is a slight tingling and/or feeling of tightness at the site of the eventual outbreak. Redness and perhaps itching may follow, then swelling. Following this, blisters form. There may be crevices caused by erosion of the skin by the eruptions. As the blisters erupt, crusts form. Later they fall, leaving the skin looking normal. But the virus has just run its course and become dormant again. Herpes I hides in the nerve ganglion at the base of the brain and Herpes II at the base of the spine.

Pain varies and can be excruciating. An outbreak can last up to 14 days. (The exception to this is among people with suppressed immunity; e.g., cancer patients and persons with AIDS. In cases such as these, lesions may be widespread and not heal for long periods of time.) The virus is most virulent and most likely to get passed along while the little blisters are bursting. The fluid carries millions of tiny infectious particles.

According to Wolhbring and Rapprich, the antibodies circulating from the first infection keep the virus at bay for most of our lives. A weakening of the immune system can cause a sudden outbreak even after years of dormancy. Common triggers include stressors such as illness, surgery, injury, and general exhaustion. The hormone changes of menstruation and pregnancy can also cause outbreaks, as can overexposure to sun. Many people have experienced the onset of an outbreak during or after a vacation at the ocean or in the mountains. Interestingly, ultra violet exposure inhibits immune factors located in the epidermis, and the diminished immunity results in an outbreak.

Women must be wary of Herpes II infections. This is the herpes virus that most commonly occurs genitally. It is a strong virus and an infection can be accompanied by flu-like symptoms. Outbreaks are particularly dangerous to women because the virus can attack the cervix. Since the cervix is not sensitive to pain, one can be carrying the infection without knowing it. The presence of such an infection can only be ascertained by a Pap smear. Herpes II infections increase the risk of cervical cancer, and if they occur during pregnancy, of birth defects and even infant death. In the case of a full blown outbreak or subclinical viral presence during the last month of pregnancy, the vagina is examined weekly and the baby delivered caesarean.

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