Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Herpes viruses typically infect the oral or genital mucosa. When herpes affects the mouth, it causes the typical "cold sores," which are painful sores or blisters that form on the lips, mouth, or gums. Prior to the development of the blisters, there may be a prodrome (early symptoms indicating onset of a particular disease) consisting of an itching, burning, or tingling sensation in the affected area. The virus remains dormant in the nervous system throughout life, and this is the reason that cold sores often recur in the same location.
Herpes infection of the genital tract is a sexually transmitted infection (sexually transmitted disease or STD). Like in the mouth area, herpes symptoms and signs include a painful, blistering rash around or on the genital or rectal areas. These lesions open and result in painful sores that can take two to four weeks to heal. The sores can sometimes cause painful urination. Recurrent outbreaks are typical, and the time between outbreaks varies among affected people and even within the same individual. Prior to an outbreak, a tingling, burning, or itching sensation may be present on the area of involved skin.
With the first outbreak of herpes virus infection, an individual may also experience nonspecific flu-like symptoms like fever, swollen lymph nodes, headache, and muscle aches. It is also possible to have herpes virus infection without having any symptoms or signs, or having signs and symptoms that are so mild that the infection is mistaken for another condition.
Causes of herpes
Herpes is caused by infection with one of the human herpesviruses. Most oral herpes virus infections are due to the virus known as HSV-1, while genital herpes virus infections are most often caused by HSV-2. However, both kinds of herpes virus can infect any location in the body.
United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Genital Herpes -- CDC Fact Sheet." Feb. 21, 2017. <http://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/stdfact-herpes.htm>.
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