..A 'Simplex' Twist of Fate
A) You have
herpes and wish you didn't, or
B) You don't have it and never want to get it.
is for both kinds of people.
the emergence of AIDS as the most-feared sexual disease in history,
the painful genital blisters and sores of herpes is still a problem
for all kinds of people.
has even been called the "New Scarlet Letter," after
the 19th-Century Nathaniel Hawthorne novel.
the physical and psychological discomfort it causes can place
victims in a self-imposed exile as dramatic as that inflicted
upon the adulteress heroine of the novel.
But it's a
problem that can be prevented (or improved, if you've already
got it) by the simplest tool that we know of: information.
So lend us
your ears and a little of your time and we'll bring you up to
date on what's known today about having -- or avoiding -- herpes.
That way, if
you've got it, you can make the best of an unpleasant situation.
And if you
don't have it, maybe you'll never have to get it.
..Old 'Cures,' New Ills
years ago, the Roman emperor Tiberius banned kissing to stop
the spread of a disease that caused blistering lip sores. Researchers
today think the disease was a form of herpes simplex virus (HSV).
The ban didn't
work. Couples kept on kissing, and herpes kept on herpe-ing,
ban or no ban.
people and governments have tried everything they could think
of to stop herpes. But it's still with us today-bigger and meaner
How big? 30-50
million Americans have genital herpes, according to a recent
And the numbers
are growing: As many as 500,000 new cases are reported every
year, with no end in sight.
No wonder herpes
conjures up so much confusion and dread. And while the disease
itself still can't be cured, the confusion and dread it inspires
can and should be.
..Causes & Complications
up some of the confusion first.
Herpes is caused
by a virus that's spread by close physical contact (usually sexual)
with an actively infected person.
Much of the
confusion about herpes stems from the fact that there's more
than one herpes simplex virus. We'll be talking about two of
the most common, named (simply enough) Type 1 and Type 2.
Type 1 (labial
herpes) is usually found around the lips and mouth and causes
Type 2 (genital
herpes) strikes most often on or around the penis or vagina.
It can also occur on the mouth of victims, just as Type 1 can
turn up in the sex organs, spread by oral-genital contact.
No matter how
- -or where -- you get it, discovering you have herpes is no
fun. Then it gets worse.
..Time After Time
as small sores or blisters that appear 2-20 days after infection.
Where they appear depends on where the virus entered the body.
In women, Type
2 blisters usually turn up near the clitoris, vulva, or vagina.
Men may first notice the fluid-filled sores on the penis or in
the urethra. Both may suffer herpes sores on the thighs or buttocks
-- even in the rectum, in the case of anal intercourse.
aren't a sure sign of infection. Other sexual diseases -- including
syphilis and chancroid -- cause herpes-like sores, and the virus
can be spread without blisters and other signs of infection.
In fact, only about one-fourth of all herpes sufferers develop
any symptoms at all.
If they do
develop symptoms, pain - -or a burning, itching feeling -- is
likely to lead the list. Others include flu-like fever, swollen
glands, and general aches and pains.
The first herpes
outbreak is often the worst, and about half of all victims never
herpes sores come and go (often disappearing within three weeks),
the virus always stays behind. It can linger in nerve cells --
for weeks or months or years -- before triggering another attack.
No one knows
exactly why or when herpes symptoms reappear.
show, though, that recurring outbreaks can be triggered by stress
or fatigue, physical exertion, menstruation, even heavy exposure
to wind or sunlight.
But the pain
and frustration of flare-ups are only two of the problems herpes
sufferers face. There are others.
One of the
worst is the higher risk of contracting another incurable --
and deadly -- disease: AIDS.
Africa and the United States show that people with herpes are
more likely to be infected by the AIDS virus, which researchers
believe enters the body through herpes sores.
Type 2 herpes
is also linked with cases of meningitis and disorders of the
throat, skin, and stomach. Both forms of the virus can cause
a potentially-blinding eye infection.
Women are hit
Not only does
herpes 2 boost their odds of cervical cancer, but pregnant women
can pass the disease to their babies at birth. Since herpes is
fatal to about half of exposed infants, most doctors recommend
delivery by C-section to avoid infection.
..Treating It, Beating It
as bad as the news on herpes gets? Well, it isn't -- not quite.
There's more: Herpes is still incurable.
good news, too: We're closer to a cure than ever before.
best news is acyclovir (Zovirax), a prescription drug that
eases herpes symptoms and speeds the healing of sores. Sold as
an ointment, an oral pill, and an injectable solution, acyclovir
also blocks recurrent attacks in some users.
The drug does
have drawbacks, though, including possible harmful effects during
pregnancy and increased resistance by the herpes virus. Still,
acyclovir offers one of the best and brightest hopes for herpes
A second ray
of hope lies in research which suggests that some herpes sufferers
literally worry themselves sick. Investigators now believe that
stress and depression play a key role in lowering immune system
response -- and in triggering herpes flare-ups.
Keeping anger, fear, and tension under control, they say, is
one way victims can keep a handle on herpes. And joining a support
group or learning a stress-reducing technique beats facing the
loneliness and dread alone.
you do if you've got it. But what's the best bet in avoiding
herpes?The only really foolproof technique is celibacy, or giving
up sex altogether.
not likely to become a fad any time soon, the next-best advice
is taking care about whom you share your body with, particularly
partners with sores near their sex organs. Always use a condom
if you're unsure -- and with AIDS and herpes lurking around out
there, you should almost always be unsure.
measures provide only a small degree of protection: urinate before
and after sex and wash thoroughly with soap and water (which
kills the herpes virus). There's also evidence that sperm-killing
agents in birth control foams and jellies may destroy the virus.
best news in the war against herpes has been the progress we've
made in understanding the disease -- and applying that knowledge
to treating its symptoms.
And while reports
of treatment breakthroughs and miracle "cures" have
excited more than one sufferer, we should point out that any
real cure is probably years away.
that the best way to handle herpes right now is to avoid it altogether.
And while the
solution doesn't have to involve scarlet letters or a ban on
kissing, you can minimize your risk by being careful about whom
you do kiss -- and have sex with.
It's been said
a few million times before, but it's worth saying at least one
time more: An ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of
And when an
ounce of prevention prevents herpes, it may even be worth more
..Sidebar | More
suffer more than the pain of recurring outbreaks of the blistering
disease. In a study by the American Social Health Association,
other problems were reported by sufferers:
- 35% suffer
impotence or reduced sexual drive
- 25% report
a high level of anger or rage
- 18% blame
a divorce or other break-up on the disease
just for starters. More than half dropped the idea of having
sex (at least for a while) after learning they had the disease,
and all had to contend with bad feelings on top of their physical
discomfort. Anyway, you look at it, herpes is a plain pain --
physically and emotionally.
here to get the bigger