Herpes Simplex


What should I know about Herpes?

Herpes comes from the Greek word meaning “to creep” and is used to describe two distinct but closely related varieties of the herpes virus. The first type, known quite simply as herpes simplex virus type one (HSV-1), commonly affects the mouth and throat. Meanwhile, herpes simplex virus type two (HSV-2) usually affects the genital areas. Although the viruses are most commonly restricted to these areas, each virus is capable of causing infections in both places.

Oddly enough, humans are the only known hosts for HSV. In most cases, the infection is transmitted via contact with infected areas that are secreting the virus. But scientists have also discovered that the virus may survive for a short time on surfaces outside the body, suggesting that contact with an infected person is not the only means of transmission.

The herpes virus is somewhat unique in that it involves a recurring cycle of primary and latent symptoms. Upon infection, the virus quickly causes an outbreak of primary symptoms. This first episode of primary symptoms is often more severe than later outbreaks and may include the development of oozing lesions in the genital or mouth areas that are highly infectious. Many patients also experience flu-like symptoms such as fever, body aches, headaches, and general feelings of illness. Following this stage of the infection, the virus becomes latent and symptoms subside completely. Scientists are unsure about what exactly triggers the latent stage of the virus. What is clear, though, is that the virus can be periodically reactivated, whereupon the primary symptoms return. There is also speculation about what triggers reactivation of the virus. It is believed that physical and emotional stress can contribute to reactivation. Scientists have also observed that reactivation of oral herpes, or HSV-1, occurs eight to ten times more frequently than reactivation of HSV-2, or genital herpes.

Although oral and genital herpes are the most common forms, there are four other varieties of herpes infection. Hepetic whitlow, or HSV infection of the finger may occur as a complication of the primary stage of oral or genital herpes, or it may occur as a result of exposure of the virus directly to the hand. Another form of infection that affects the skin is aptly named herpes gladitorum and is often associated with wrestling. In this case, HSV can infect the throat, ears, face, and hands. The virus is transmitted through the cuts and bruises wrestlers sustain during competition. HSV can also infect the eyes and such infection is a frequent cause of corneal blindness in the United States. Finally, women who are experiencing the primary stage of genital HSV infection can transmit the virus to newborns during delivery. Without treatment, neonatal herpes is a significant risk to newborns. High infant mortality and abnormal development are associated with the infection.


International Herpes Alliance (IHA), 2001.

  • Worldwide 1 in 7 to 1 in 5 people have been exposed to and infected by genital herpes simplex virus (HSV).
  • Only about 20% of people infected with the herpes simplex virus are diagnosed.

The New Zealand Herpes Foundation, 2004.

  • Genital herpes affects 1 in 5 people in New Zealand.

World Health Organization, 2004.

  • Sub-Saharan Africa prevalence of HSV-2 among women is as high as 75%.

National Institute of Dental Research, 2000.

    Eight out of every 10 American adults are infected with the herpes simplex virus, or HSV. Eight of 10 people with first-time HSV infections--and a few with recurrences--also contract viral meningitis.

Medline Plus Health Information, 2002.

    While statistics vary, research shows that 90% of the population has been exposed to HSV-1, "oral herpes", and 25% of the population aged 25-45 years old in the United States has been exposed to infection with HSV-2, "genital herpes".

Signs and Symptoms

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Symptoms are the worst during the first-time infection. Skin eruptions (little clusters of blister-like sores) occur 2-12 days after exposure on various parts of the body such as the central nervous system. Infections can occur in or around the mouth, eyes, genitals, fingers as well as more internal parts of the body.

Oral herpes infections may cause swelling and/or redness inside the mouth. Clusters of blisters, most often at the corners of the mouth, on lip, tongue, or gingival tissue can be present. It may be hard to tell the difference between a bacterial sore throat and sore throat caused by herpes infection. Also, headaches and flu-like symptoms including fever, muscle aches, tiredness, and a general feeling of weakness may be present.

Genital infections possess flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, general weakness, fatigue, and muscle aches. The skin eruptions (sores) on the genitals vary from small pimple-like blisters to red, irritated ulcers. They can lead to painful urination, vaginal discharge, tender swelling of lymph nodes in groin area, pain, and itching.

Eye Infections cause pain, blurry vision, redness, and inflammation of the eye. Swelling of the mucous membrane that lines the inner surface of the eyelid and eyeball (conjunctiva) can also occur.

Herpetic whitlow (herpes simplex infection of the finger) presents swelling, redness, and tenderness of the finger. Blister-like, or pus filled lesions on the fingertip are present as are the occasional flu-like symptoms. Swollen lymph nodes in the armpit or elbow can be found.


  • Symptoms are the worst during the first-time infection
  • Skin eruptions (little clusters of blister-like sores) occur 2-12 days after exposure on various parts of the body
  • May be flu-like symptoms including fever, muscle aches, tiredness, general feeling of weakness
  • Headache

Treatment Options


In general, conventional treatments concentrate on relief of the symptoms of HSV, as well as preventing recurrence of primary symptoms. Medical practice also concentrates on preventing transmission of the disease.

A warm saline bath, as well as aspirin and other pain relievers are simple and common therapies for the pain of genital outbreaks of HSV. There are prescription medications for HSV as well. Such drug therapies, including acylclovir, valacyclovir, and famicyclovir, can be used to treat outbreaks of the virus. Oral acyclovir is used to treat outbreaks of oral herpes. There are also a number of topical treatments available for HSV eye infections.

Nutritional Suplementation


There have been a number of studies on the effectiveness of lysine in the treatment of herpes. One such study suggested that the nutrient, when taken over an extended period, may reduce the number of herpes outbreaks, as well as reduce the severity of symptoms and shorten healing time when outbreaks do occur. (1) Other studies have supported these findings for sufferers of both genital and oral herpes. (2) , (3)

Vitamin C

A number of studies have looked at the effectiveness of topical application of vitamin C. The findings of these studies suggest that vitamin C, when applied to open lesions in various topical forms, may actually fight the herpes virus and lesson the duration and severity of outbreaks. (4) , (5) , (6)


Much like vitamin C, various topical formulations of zinc have shown promise in the treatment of herpes symptoms. Studies suggest that zinc solutions can help prevent herpes simplex virus of the mouth and skin. (7) , (8) Other studies have studied zinc’s effectiveness in treating genital herpes with promising results. (9)

Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA)

This nutrient belongs to a family of omega-3 fatty acids that are essential for overall health. Research indicates that EPA in particular can have anti-viral properties that are effective against all varieties of the herpes virus. (10)


There is some research to indicate that selenium may enhance the body’s immunity to the form of herpes virus that causes genital herpes (HSV-2). (11)

Herbal Suplementation


It’s hard to go anywhere without hearing about echinacea. It’s reputation as an immune booster has made it one of the most popular herbs in the world. Its ability to enhance the body’s natural defenses has applications in fighting common colds, influenza, and other infections. Echinacea is also reported to have a wide level of antimicrobial activity on bacteria, fungi, and viruses, such as the herpes viruses. (12) Research indicates that this activity may be the result of echinacea’s ability to enhance the body’s immune processes. (13) , (14)

Lemon Balm/Melissa

Today, melissa’s chief use involves the treatment of oral herpes. A cream preparation of melissa may be useful for the treatment of the cold sores that develop during an outbreak of the virus. (15) In addition to shortening the healing period of cold sores, melissa may aid in the prevention of spreading the infection. Studies suggest that it may also have a soothing effect on typical symptoms of cold sores like itching, tingling, burning, and swelling. (16)

Cat's Claw

This natural remedy is reported to have the ability to soothe irritated and inflamed tissues and help eliminate harmful bacterial and viral invaders from the gastrointestinal tract. Studies have also looked into the herb’s function in supporting the immune system. (17) Some of the key components of cat’s claw have been studied for their ability to fight a number of infections and boost overall immunity. (18) , (19)

Olive Leaf

In addition to supporting the cardiovascular system, olive leaf extract may help the body ward off a number of microscopic invaders, including the virus that causes herpes. (20)

Grapefruit Seed

Grapefruit seed extract is best known for its disinfectant properties and it has been recognized for its ability to ward off a broad spectrum of invading organisms. Scientists think grapefruit seed extract may work by entering the membrane of invading bacteria and depriving them of a food source. (21)


  1. View Abstract: Griffith RS, et al. Success of L-lysine Therapy in Frequently Recurrent Herpes Simplex Infection. Treatment and Prophylaxis. Dermatologica. 1987;175(4):183-90.
  2. View Abstract: Walsh DE, et al. Subjective Response to Lysine in the Therapy of Herpes Simplex. J Antimicrob Chemother. Nov1983;12(5):489-96.
  3. View Abstract: Thein DJ, Hurt WC. Lysine as a prophylactic agent in the treatment of recurrent herpes simplex labialis. Oral Surg Oral Med Oral Pathol. Dec1984;58(6):659-666.
  4. View Abstract: White LA, et al. In vitro effect of ascorbic acid on infectivity of herpesviruses and paramyxoviruses. J Clin Microbiol. Oct1986;24(4):527-31.
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  10. View Abstract: Omura Y. Treatment of acute or chronic severe, intractable pain and other intractable medical problems associated with unrecognized viral or bacterial infection: Part I. Acupunct Electrother Res. 1990;15(1):51-69.
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  14. View Abstract: Luettig B, et al. Macrophage Activation by the Polysaccharide Arabinogalactan Isolated from Plant Cell Cultures of Echinacea purpurea. J of the American Cancer Institute. 1989;81(9):669-75.
  15. View Abstract: Kovtchev R, et al. Balm mint extract (Lo-701) for topical treatment of recurring herpes labialis. Phytomedicine. Oct1999;6(4):225-30.
  16. View Abstract: Sapse AT. Stress, cortisol, interferon and ''stress'' diseases. I. Cortisol as the cause of ''stress'' diseases. Med Hypotheses. Jan1984;13(1):31-44.
  17. Wagner H, et al. The Alkaloids of Uncaria tomentosa and Their Phagocytosis-stimulating Action. Planta Med. 1995;5:419-23.
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  21. Ionescu G, et al. Oral Citrus seed extract. J Orthomolecula Med. 1990;5(3):72-74.