Herpes simplex is a very common virus known as HSV. The virus causes herpes which most commonly affects the mouth and the genitals. It can cause outbreaks of sores along with other symptoms.
Herpes simplex is a contagious virus that is transmitted through direct contact with an infected person. Once infected, the virus remains with a person for the rest of their lives.
There are two types of herpes simplex virus:
This form of herpes is contracted from interacting with another infected person in ways that will pass the virus on such as sharing eating utensils, kissing and sharing lip balm. When the sufferer is having an outbreak the infection is more contagious. HSV-1 can also be transmitted to the genital area during oral sex. HSV-1 can be contracted even when the infected person is asymptomatic. An estimated 67% of people under 50 years are infected by HSV-1 globally.
When a child is born it may come into contact with herpes simplex virus (either HSV-1 or HSV-2) during the delivery process. Neonatal herpes however is very rare occurring in an estimated 10 out of 100,000 births worldwide. It is a very serious condition that can lead to disability or even death. If a mother has genital herpes prior to becoming pregnant the risk to the child is very small but this risk increases if the infection is contracted in late pregnancy. This is because there greater levels of the virus in the genital tract soon after infection.
This form of herpes is contracted through sexual contact with a person who is infected with HSV-2. This form of herpes simplex is spread through contact with a herpes sore. An estimated 13% of people aged 15-49 are infected with HSV-2 worldwide.
In these cases, HSV-2 can present in a more severe form and with more recurrent outbreaks. If the HIV is advanced then the HSV-2 can lead to very serious complications such as meningoencephalitis, oesophagitis, hepatitis, pneumonitis, retinal necrosis or disseminated infection
Antiviral drugs are available such as acyclovir, famciclovir and valacyclovir. These drugs can be effective in treating the symptoms or severity of outbreaks but it is important to remember that HSV is a lifelong infection that cannot be cured.