Herpes : Symptoms, Preventions and Treatment


Herpes is a common disease that develops in the presence of the herpes simplex virus (HSV). This virus can broadly be divided into two types – HSV-1 and HSV-2.

HSV-1 causes oral herpes while HSV-2 is the primary cause of genital herpes.

After transmission, the HSV lies dormant until triggered to reactivate. Since it is an asymptomatic disease, it probably will not be detected until tested for. It is usually a lot more contagious when present with symptoms as compared to in the absence of any.

Symptoms, if any, start appearing after 2 – 20 days of being infected. Though this disease is incurable, it can still be treated with the aim of managing and reducing the symptoms.

In this article, we discuss the symptoms, prevention, and treatment options for herpes.


This type usually affects the mouth and the skin surrounding it. As per statistics provided by the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 67% of people are infected by HSV-1.

Symptoms of Oral Herpes

  • Ulcers or blisters around or in the mouth, on the lips, tongue, or in rare cases on other areas of skin
  • Itchiness
  • Burning or tingling sensation

The ulcers can last for about 2 – 3 weeks at a time. The frequency of recurrence varies from person to person but they usually recur occasionally after the original infection.


HSV-2 is a sexually transmitted disease (STD). According to WHO, 13% of people worldwide are infected by HSV-2. It causes an infection near the anus or genitals. Genital herpes also makes the patient highly susceptible to transmitting or acquiring the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Symptoms of Genital Herpes

  • Pain and itching around the genitals
  • Flu-like symptoms (fever, body ache, tiredness)
  • Ulcers around or in the vagina, anus, buttocks, or on the penis
  • Red bumps or white blisters around genitals (appear before ulcers)
  • Pain while urinating
  • Stinging pain in legs, hips, and buttocks (before ulcers)
  • Changes in vaginal discharge

These ulcers can remain for 2 – 6 weeks during the initial outbreak but they become less severe and frequent over the years. However, they might recur for many years.


One can always take some precautions and measures to either not get infected by herpes, or to prevent its transmission.

Preventing HSV-1

Oral herpes is especially infectious when the symptoms are present. However, this does not mean that asymptomatic oral herpes is not contagious.

An HSV-1 infection does not lower the risk of getting infected by genital herpes.

Pregnant women, especially the ones in their later trimesters, should inform a medical professional in case they are experiencing any symptoms of herpes. The doctor might suggest taking antiviral medications or a cesarean section to reduce the risk of neonatal herpes.

Some other tips to prevent HSV-1 include:

  • Use a latex condom every time you have sex
  • Abstain from sex while symptoms are present
  • Infected people should avoid kissing, oral sex, and other forms of oral contact
  • Avoid sharing products that have come in contact with an infected person’s saliva
  • Avoid touching the affected area during an outbreak

Consistent use of a condom can reduce the risk, but it might not be enough to effectively prevent herpes. If used incorrectly, it is still transmissible via areas that have been left uncovered.

In case you came in direct contact with the affected area during an outbreak, wash your hands thoroughly as soon as possible. This can effectively reduce the risk of you getting infected or unknowingly spreading it via the infected fluid.

Preventing HSV-2

Genital herpes can also make the patient prone to HIV, thus it is heavily recommended to get tested for HIV as well. They might even benefit better from HIV prevention efforts like pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).

An important thing to remember is that neither oral contraceptives like pills, nor PrEP can prevent any kind of STI. The only effective way to reduce the risk is by correctly and consistently using a barrier method of contraception like condoms.

Some other tips to prevent HSV-2 include:

  • Always use a male or female condom or a dental dam while having vaginal, anal, or oral sex
  • Avoid sharing sex toys with infected people

In case you are sharing sex toys, be mindful to wash them thoroughly and cover them properly with a condom before use.

An effective way to at least gain partial protection is a medical male circumcision. Besides HSV-2, this procedure can also provide safety from HIV and human papillomavirus (HPV).

Experts are trying to research and develop vaccines to prevent HSV infection. Research regarding topical microbicides is underway as well. These are compounds that are applied inside the vagina or rectum to provide safety against STDs.

Risk Factors

One might need to take extra precaution under certain circumstances. They put an individual at a greater risk of getting infected by HSV-2. People who should take extra safety measures include:

  • Women: Females, as compared to men, more susceptible to genital herpes. A male to female transmission is a lot more likely than a female to male transmission.
  • More than one sexual partner: With every additional partner, comes an additional risk of herpes. Even with condoms, the risk of getting infected is never zero.


Though herpes is incurable, one can still take medications and make use of creams to relieve symptoms. WHO recommends antivirals like acyclovir, famciclovir, and valacyclovir. These antivirals can reduce the frequency and severity of symptoms and bring temporary relief.


 For maximum effectiveness, it is ideal to take these medications within 24 hours or 5 days of the symptoms showing up. They come as pills, creams, and even injections for severe cases.

The doctor might recommend taking antiviral medications for 6 – 12 months if the number of recurrences is more than 6 times a year.

Though antiviral medications drastically reduce the risk of passing the infection to your partner, they still do not completely prevent it. Thus, it is crucial to take precautionary measures.

Some other tips to temporarily relieve pain and avoid the transmission of herpes include:

  • Avoid touching the affected area
  • Avoid tight clothing as it may lead to skin irritation
  • Consider over the counter pain relief medications like ibuprofen
  • Apply petroleum jelly to affected areas (aloe vera gel is an alternative but lacks scientific backup)
  • Take baths in lightly-salted warm water
  • Apply cream or lotion on the urethra prior to urinating to avoid the burning sensation
  • Abstain from all sexual activities until symptoms have subsided completely

If you are applying the cream, do not rub it on the blisters. Rather, just pat the cream slightly and wash your hands thoroughly later.


Herpes has no permanent cure yet. Though dormant, the virus still lives in the body. It usually activates due to certain specific triggers like an illness, stress, too much sun, or even periods.

Consult a medical health professional immediately in case you experience any of the symptoms. Lastly, remember to have an open conversation with your partner before engaging in any kind of sexual activity.