The first attack of the herpes virus is the most painful and takes the longest time to heal. Within 2 to 20 days after infection, there is a mild tingling or itching. This can be on the labia, clitoris, or vagina opening; more rarely on the vagina wall, the cervix, the buttocks, thighs, or anus. It develops into one or more watery, painful blisters in the next few days. There can be burning or pain on urination, with swollen lymph nodes in the groin. There is an increase in discharge or a feeling of pressure in the pelvic area. In some cases, the entire body reacts with flu-like symptoms: fever, headache, and chills.
Ninety percent of women develop sores on the vagina and cervix during a first infection. The blisters burst quickly and shed highly contagious viruses everywhere. The now-empty blisters turn into shallow ulcers, which can be painful. The ulcers form into crusts, which heal spontaneously within 1 to 5 weeks. Visit the physician as soon as the symptoms appear. At an early stage, diagnosis can be made by sight alone. Help can begin immediately, but a culture test is very expensive.
At least 5 types of herpes virus are known to affect humans. The Epstein Barr virus and-cytomegalovirus causes infectious mononucleosis, also known as glandular fever. The varicella virus causes chickenpox in children, and shingles in adults. There are 2 types of herpes simplex virus. HSV 1 causes cold sores on the lips or nose, also called fever blisters. HSV 2 causes genital ulcers, also called genital herpes.
By adulthood, most people have been infected with the cold sore virus, HSV 1. They develop antibodies against it, and only a few actually get cold sores. Fewer adults have HSV 2 antibodies because the virus is spread by sexual contact. The findings of a recent study suggest that 99 percent of prostitutes have HSV 2 antibodies in their blood, compared with 3 percent of nuns and 29 percent of women in a committed relationship.
About 50 percent of those with HSV 2 have no symptoms. The recent increase in genital herpes is thought to be partly due to this, and partly due to an increase in the practice of oro-genital sex. In some cases, both HSV 1 and HSV 2 cause genital herpes. If suffering from a cold sore, avoid kissing, and any facial or genital contact. This applies to a partner as well.
Not all HSV 2 die after a first attack. The virus coats itself in the person’s own protein substance and retreats along nerve endings to the base of the spine. Here it sets up a permanent home, staying inactive for varying lengths of time. When the virus becomes active again, it usually returns to the same place as the previous attack. Recurring outbreaks can be virulent and painful, or very mild. If mild, a woman may be unaware that she is shedding highly contagious germs.
HSV 2 is particularly dangerous for women. It is linked with cancer of the cervix, The virus can cause miscarriage in the first 3 months of pregnancy. If shed during birth, 1 in 2 babies will be infected. Two out of 3 of those infected babies will die. Half the others suffer brain damage or visual defects. These horrors are now avoided by Caesarian birth. The baby is lifted from the uterus and thus avoids contact with the virus.
As yet, there is no drug to destroy the herpes virus. The drug acyclovir helps reduce the pain of an attack; it may even lessen the number of recurrences. One of the miserable factors of herpes is the permanent risk of passing on the disease. Some physicians believe that this is only during the active phase; others strongly disagree. An infected person cannot be free of this worry.