Almost everyone has experienced herpes on the lips (cold sores): small, painful blisters that heal after a time, but can always return. Herpes is caused by viruses. If you have been infected once, the viruses remain in the body for the rest of your life and can cause herpes blisters at any time.
Herpes can also break out in other parts of the body, primarily in the genital and anal region.
The herpes blisters can sometimes spread to a large area in HIV-positive people. The illness is more often severe in people with starkly compromised immune systems, leading to inner organs or the brain being affected. If that happens, herpes can be life threatening.
The risk of passing on HIV is increased with a herpes infection, as the herpes blisters contain a high concentration of HIV. HIV-negative people with a herpes infection can become infected with HIV more easily because the virus can enter the body more easily through the damaged mucous membranes.
Herpes viruses mainly affect sensitive areas of skin and mucous membranes. A few days after infection, itching, burning or taut skin may be noticed. Then, blisters develop, which eventually burst and leave small ulcers behind. Swollen lymph glands, headache and joint pain are also possible. These symptoms usually disappear within two to three weeks.
But the herpes viruses have not disappeared from the body. They remain in the body for the rest of your life and can become active again at any time, causing new herpes blisters to develop. This can happen when you are stressed or when the body is weakened by another illness.
Herpes is normally painful, but not dangerous. If the infection spreads to the eyes, however, it may threaten your sight. In rare cases, the virus can also affect internal organs, the nervous system or the brain.
Herpes is easily transmitted. Contact with the blisters or ulcers, for example while kissing or having sex, carries a particularly high risk. But herpes can also be passed on as a droplet or smear infection, for example via coughing, sneezing or sharing a glass. The virus can also spread from one part of the body to another, via the hands for example.
Particularly dangerous: herpes can be transmitted from a pregnant woman to her baby. It is then life threatening for the newborn.
Because herpes is spread so easily, there is no reliable protection. Condoms can only reduce the risk. You should avoid contact with any herpes blisters or ulcers. If you do touch them, you should wash your hands thoroughly.
There is no vaccine against herpes.
Herpes can be easily recognized by a doctor due to its unique appearance.
Herpes viruses cannot be eliminated from the body. However, medications can reduce their replication in the body. The anti-viral drugs are usually administered to the affected body parts in the form of a cream. They can also be given in tablet or injection form if the illness is severe or to avoid a more severe outbreak.