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June 20, 2018  |  Login
by James F. Balch, M.D. and Mark Stengler, N.D.

The herpes family of viruses includes more than seventy known members. The most common ones that humans encounter include herpes simplex 1 and 2, Epstein-Barr virus, varicella zoster, and cytomegalovirus. This section contains information on herpes simplex 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex 2 (HSV-2).

Both of the herpes simplex viruses cause small, irritating, fluid-filled blisters or eruptions on the skin and the mucous membranes. Herpes simplex virus 1 is often at the root of cold sores, also known as fever blisters, since sun exposure can bring on an outbreak.

The initial symptoms of a cold sore include burning and tingling sensations around the edges of the lips and the nose, where itchy, painful blisters and/or small, red pimples will form within a few hours and last a few days. They usually dry up and crust over in eight to twelve days after onset, although natural and conventional therapy can often greatly reduce the healing time. A person may complain of localized pain, as well as have a mild fever and swollen lymph nodes in the neck.

Herpes simplex virus 2 causes blisters on the genitals and is typically spread through sexual contact (although herpes simplex virus 1 can also cause genital herpes and vice versa). The burning and tingling sensations surrounding the genital areas are its initial symptoms. The moist linings surrounding the sex organs will soon become the sites of blisters that later turn into sores or lesions that can easily become infected and irritating. It should be noted that a pregnant woman carrying the herpes simplex virus 2 may pass it along to her baby during birth, allowing the baby to form lesions from contact, as well as problems with its nervous systems, such as seizures and mental retardation. Women are screened for this infection during their pregnancy, and cesarean section birthing can prevent the transfer of herpes simplex 2.

Herpes simplex virus 1 and 2 are extremely common. Once they enter the body, herpes viruses can remain dormant in the nervous system for several years or life. Their outbreak is more likely when the immune system is under stress, such as during infectious illness (common cold), when under physical or emotional stress, from excessive exposure to sunlight, and from nutritional deficiencies and allergies to food or drugs.

Conventional treatment for a cold sore is to let it run its course, apply antiviral topical solutions, or use pain-relieving medications. The antiviral drug acyclovir (Zovirax) is used to suppress outbreaks of oral and genital herpes. Antibiotics may be given for secondary skin infections.

Natural therapy focuses on enhancing the immune system so that one is not as susceptible to a herpes outbreak. In addition, this section discusses some natural remedies that have direct antiviral effects. It has been estimated that 90 percent of the population has one or both herpes viruses. The key is to have a resilient immune system that can fight off and contain the herpes virus. In the case of genital herpes, the best approach is prevention through avoidance of casual sexual contact. However, natural therapies can make a dramatic impact in reducing outbreak recurrence and severity for people with genital herpes.

Next: What are the Symptoms of Herpes

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