Herpes is actually a name given to a group of viruses that affect different parts of the body. The herpes zoster virus is responsible for causing both chickenpox and shingles. Two other types of herpes, commonly referred to as the herpes simplex virus (1 and 2) or HSV-1 and HSV-2, cause both genital herpes and cold sores around the mouth area. In this post, we will discuss some of the symptoms that individuals will most likely notice if they become infected with one of these versions of the herpes virus and some of the treatment options available.
Herpes Zoster Virus
Chickenpox, also known as varicella, was once a common, very contagious childhood illness. With the introduction of a vaccine in the mid-1990s, infections have declined. The classic symptoms of chickenpox are red, itchy blisters that appear all over the body. Other common symptoms include headache, fever and loss of appetite. In some cases, the herpes zoster virus can also affect the eye, in which case it is then referred to as herpes zoster ophthalmicus. With this type of infection, symptoms include eye pain that increases when looking at bright light, redness, tearing, and/or a cloudy or swollen cornea.
Shingles outbreaks can only occur in individuals who have had the chickenpox. In these cases, the virus reactivates itself and causes pain, tingling, itching, burning in an area of the skin, which eventually turns into a rash.
HSV-1 and HSV-2
Cold sores occur around the mouth and lip area. They are characterized by one or more red, swollen and painful blisters. Sometimes additional symptoms include swollen glands, a sore throat and/or fever. Both HSV-1 and HSV-2 can cause cold sores, and they are contagious.
Genital herpes outbreaks may have no symptoms at all and some women only have herpes on their cervix making it difficult for initial detection. Common symptoms include painful urination, itching, tender lumps in the groin area, and for women, vaginal discharge. With the initial outbreak, some people also experience fever, body aches and headache.
The best treatment for chickenpox is actually prevention. Parents should discuss vaccinating their children against chickenpox. Teens and adults should seek medical care if they become infected with chickenpox in order to avoid potentially serious complications. Those with a herpes eye infection should seek medical treatment in order to receive prescription medication. For shingles, there are some antiviral medications available and there is a vaccine available to help prevent shingles in some cases.
Neither cold sores or genital herpes can be cured completely. Cold sores usually heal on their own within a few days. There are over-the-counter creams and ointments available to help alleviate symptoms. For genital herpes, antiviral medications such as famcyclovir, acyclovir and valacyclovir are thought to speed up healing of outbreaks and lessen painful symptoms.