What is Herpes?
Herpes is a viral infection caused by two types of herpes simplex virus (HSV) Type 1 (HSV-1) and Type 2 or HSV-2. These are found in the saliva, semen and vaginal secretion of the infected people. Want to know what triggers herpes? Read on to understand what initiates this viral disease.
What are the Common Types of Herpes?
While both HSV viruses can cause genital herpes, oral herpes is only caused by HSV-1. Oral herpes is an infection of the mouth and lips, which are characterised by symptoms like fever blisters and cold sores. Oral herpes can affect people at any age and at any time during the year. Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) marked by the appearance of herpetic sores, i.e. painful fluid filled blisters, in and around the penis, vagina, anus, scrotum, or buttocks. These blisters can get ulcerated and leak fluid too. Itching, tingling sensation, swelling and pain in the infected areas, fever, headache, and body ache are other symptoms experienced by the herpes patient. Around 20% of people aged 12 years and above are infected with the genital herpes, but 90% of them are unaware of their condition. Since it is easier for the virus to infect a woman’s genitals, than a man’s, females develop herpes infection more than males.
How Does HSV-1 Spread?
HSV-1 generally passes from one person to another through kissing. HSV-1 can also spread from the mouth to the genitals during oral sex and cause genital herpes. Also, the HSV 1 can get transmitted from the genital to the mouth during oral sex and cause oral herpes. HSV-2 is mostly transmitted through vaginal and anal sex. Since HSV-2 cannot survive on a non-living surface for long, there is no risk of getting it from places like a hot tub or toilet seat. When active, the herpes virus travels to the surface of the infected region, i.e. skin or mucous membrane, and replicates itself. This process is known as shedding because the new viruses can get transmitted to another person during this time. Then the herpes virus travels along the nerve to the base of the spine or pelvis, where it lies dormant until another outbreak is triggered.
What Triggers Herpes Infection?
Factors which can trigger genital herpes are:
Friction During Sexual Intercourse: It has been found that the friction of sexual intercourse irritates the skin and trigger herpes symptoms. Water-based lubricants usually prove helpful in reducing this irritation. One should not use a lubricant containing the spermicide nonoxynol-9, as this component can further irritate mucous membranes, like the lining of the vagina. Oil-based lubricants should also never be used as these tend to weaken the latex and increase the condom’s risk of breaking. Even when the friction of intercourse causes the symptoms, it does not cause a flare-up every time.
Hormones: Some hormonal changes, like ones that occur in the menstrual cycle, can affect and trigger the outbreak of genital herpes.
Surgery & Weak Immune System: Trauma to the body, like a surgery, and a weakened immune system are some other herpes triggers. Compared to people with normal immune function, people with an immune system that has got weakened by chemotherapy or HIV tend to have more frequent outbreaks of herpes.
Cold & Sunlight: UV rays from the sun and common cold are also believed to trigger outbreaks of oral herpes. However, these factors have still not been proven to cause genital herpes.
Pregnant Women: Pregnant women suffering from genital herpes transmit the herpes infection to their baby during normal vaginal delivery. So pregnancy is another herpes trigger.
Fever: Fever changes the core temperature of the body, which in turn triggers the outbreak of oral herpes marked with sores in and around the mouth. These sores are often called fever blisters.
Stress: Stress is known to activate the sympathetic nervous system and weaken the body’s immune system. Stress thus triggers a HSV-1 outbreak. Stress is a common trigger for many medical conditions, including herpes.
It should however be remembered that herpes triggers may not be the same for everyone. Also, to what extent a person’s lifestyle affects herpes symptoms is still not known.
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