The herpes simplex virus (HSV) is the virus that causes cold sores and genital warts. An infection by HSV is marked by watery blisters on the skin or mucous membranes of the mouth, lips or genitals. These lesions weep initially, then heal and scab before disappearing.
The infection is persistent and symptoms may recur periodically as outbreaks of sores near the site of original infection. This is because, after the initial infection, the HSV lies dormant in the nerves underlying the area of the outbreak. Factors that can trigger an outbreak include stress, illness such as a cold or fever, fatigue, sunburn, menstruation or sexual intercourse.
The HSV is contagious if the carrier is producing and shedding the virus. This is especially likely during an outbreak, but possible at other times too.
Most people with genital herpes have 5 to 8 outbreaks per year, but not everyone has recurrent symptoms. As time goes on, the number of outbreaks usually decreases. Oral herpes can recur as often as monthly or only once or twice each year.
There is not yet a cure but a number of steps can be taken to help reduce viral shedding and outbreaks.
Herpes symptoms can vary. Many infected individuals have few, if any, noticeable symptoms. In people who do have symptoms, they may appear symptoms 2 to 20 days after the person was exposed to an HSV infection, and may last for several weeks.
During outbreaks, a sufferer generally experiences:
- Painful, itching blisters filled with fluid on and around the affected area
- Flu-like symptoms including fever, headache, muscle aches and fatigue
- With genital herpes:
- Females may have a vaginal discharge
- There may be pain on urination
- Sufferers may experience swollen and tender lymph nodes in the groin
Many patients are able to anticipate an outbreak when they notice a tingling sensation. It is when you feel signs that an outbreak is about to start that you are particularly contagious, even though the skin still appears normal.
Diet: a diet high in the amino acid lysine and low in the amino acid arginine can help to inhibit replication of the HSV. Foods high in lysine include meats, whilst chocolate is a source of arginine.
Getting the correct balance of these amino acids in the diet can help to prevent a HSV outbreak and reduce viral shedding.
Poor immune function: whilst an immune system cannot completely eradicate HSV, a compromised immune system often precedes an outbreak. Keeping it functioning optimally is key to preventing outbreaks and viral shedding.
If you’d like to find out more about how diet and supplements can help to boost your immunity, please book a Smart Nutrition using the button at the bottom of this page.
Stress: this is another common outbreak trigger as a stressful lifestyle can put the body into a constant state of alert. This is valuable in times of true danger, but in the longterm, the hormones that put the body in this state can suppress the immune system. This allows the opportunistic HSV to re-emerge, creating an outbreak.
If you have a stressful lifestyle and feel this may be a factor in your condition, an Adrenal Stress Test can pinpoint precise imbalances that can then be targeted with the help of Smart Nutrition.