Though not quite as potentially lethal and as feared as the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), which ultimately causes AIDS, the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV), responsible for genital herpes is also just as dangerous, highly contagious and incurable as the HIV.
When the HSV is on the surface of the human skin, it is easily transferable to another person through moist skin contact, specifically around the lip, the eyes and, more commonly, the genital area.
Dr Tuduetso Monageng, a General Practitioner explains that there are two types of the herpes virus, which are the HSV1 and HSV2. They primarily differ in that HSV1 can cause oral herpes and HSV2 causes genital herpes. The two, however, have an identical DNA and both take up residence in the mucosal surfaces of the body.
It must, however, be noted that acts such as anal or oral sex with an infected person may cause the infection to occur on the mouth and anus, respectively.
The symptoms that infected persons carry are, depending on the type and mode of infection, blisters, either on the mouth, genitals, rectum or around the cervix. Once the blisters burst they can leave behind painful sores around the infected area, which take up to between two to four weeks to heal.
Dr Monagen says that these symptoms can be extremely mild, and the virus can go for years unnoticed in a person. The infected person can sometimes also experience vaginal discharges, pain during urination, high fever and malaise.
There is no cure for these infections but they can be suppressed through various methods of treatments.
After being diagnoses by a general practitioner, gynaecologist or even a dentist through visual inspection and or blood tests, the patient is then treated with anti viral medication, which merely suppresses the virus since herpes is incurable and will recur at a later stage.
“Antiviral medications can, however, prevent or shorten outbreaks during the period of time the person takes the medication. In addition, daily suppressive therapy, the daily use of antiviral medication for herpes, can reduce the likelihood of transmission to partners,” said Monagen.
She points out that due to the nature of their respective anatomies, women are more susceptible to contracting herpes from men than men are from women.
For oral herpes, dentists are often faced with two variations of the virus which are, the Herpes Simplex; which mostly affects infants, its primary causes include herpetic gingivostomatitis.
Symptoms include fever, enlarged lymph nodes and ulcers in the mouth. It is self limiting, lasts for 10 days and can be treated with a soft diet with plenty of liquids. Following that, the virus lies dormant in the body. Other causes for results of this virus causes cold sores; what locals call ntho ya tlhogo is a reactivation of the primary infection.
Precipitating factors include trauma to the lips, exposure to sunlight, stress, immuno suppression. There is also the Herpes zoster, which causes chicken pox, as the primary infection and shingles as the secondary infection.
Once infected with herpes, there are a number of challenges which occur, like pregnancy, which, if not carefully monitored, the herpes may trigger premature labour and even lead to miscarriages.
Monagen says that a pregnant herpes patient needs a care giver during pre natal care so that the necessary precautions are taken to prevent any misfortunes. The precautions include antiviral medication from 36 weeks gestation through delivery to reduce the risk of an outbreak since it may be passed on to the infant during delivery and can “result in neonatal herpes which is potentially fatal”.
Should the symptoms arise just before delivery, obstetricians usually opt for a caesarean section as the method of delivery to prevent the neonatal herpes.
Herpes may not be curable but it is manageable.
It is, however, crucial to take the necessary steps once the signs and symptoms arise.
Monagen explains that the virus can lay dormant in some people and never show; these people are carriers and, therefore, the surest and safest way to prevent infections is by the usage of latex condoms during sexual intercourse since carriers are also infectious.