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[PATIENT ADVISER]

Controlling Herpes

THE PHYSICIAN AND SPORTSMEDICINE - REPRINTED FROM VOL 22 - NO. 9 - SEPTEMBER 94


Herpes simplex is a highly contagious virus that causes cold sores or blisters. A red, swollen bump near the lips, mouth, or face is usually the first sign of an active virus. The following are answers to questions you may have about the virus.

How do you get the virus?

The virus can enter your body through a tiny break in the skin if you come into contact with someone's active sore. Often, people become infected after kissing someone who has a cold sore. Most adults in the United States have been exposed to and carry the virus. Once infected, the virus remains with you throughout your life.

Does being infected with the herpes virus mean you will develop symptoms?

No. Most people never know they have the virus and never develop any symptoms from it. In other people, the virus becomes "active" from time to time, creating a red bump or an outbreak of blisters or cold sores.

What causes the virus to become active?

Any infection, such as a cold, can prompt the virus to show itself. It is easier for the virus to become active when your immune (disease-fighting) system is weakened by another illness. Trauma, like a scrape or cut, sun exposure, and even stress can also activate the virus.

How can I tell if the virus is active?

The first sign of the active virus is usually a red, swollen bump. If this appears on your lip, mouth, face, or other part of your body, see your doctor. Often the bump burns, stings, tingles, itches, or hurts as it develops into one or several cold sores or blisters You also may feel sick or lack energy.

People who have had one bout with the virus will recognize the early warning signs if it comes back. They will feel the burning or stinging or itching where they had blisters or cold sores before.

How is the virus treated?

A drug taken orally called acyclovir is the recommended treatment for herpes. If you develop symptoms of the virus, your doctor will probably instruct you to take a pill of acyclovir five times a day for several days.

Once the blisters develop, though, acyclovir does not help. Some nonprescription products, such as antibiotic or benzoyl peroxide lotions, creams, or gels, may help reduce the pain and dry the blisters.

What if the virus comes back?

If you have frequent bouts with the virus, your doctor will probably give you a prescription for acyclovir tablets so you can carry the pills with you at all times. Whenever you feel the burning, stinging, or itching that signals that the sores are coming on, take the recommended dose of acyclovir right away. That way, you can prevent the sores from developing.

How can I keep from spreading the virus to others?

You are infectious until the blisters or sores dry; so until then, do not be intimate with others. Also avoid sharing personal items like toothbrushes, soap, and towels. And refrain from participating in contact sports like wrestling and basketball until your infection goes away.

What can I do to prevent the virus from coming back?

Wear sunscreens, especially those that offer maximal protection. Avoid being intimate with anyone who has blisters or cold sores or whom you suspect may have an active infection until the blisters or cold sores dry.

Remember: Discuss your concerns about the herpes simplex virus with your physician. This information is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment.


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