Herpes: harmless or insidious?

Health Tips

“Well, think about it – herpes! Found something to worry about! It blew, so the cold came out on the lips! A couple of days and you’re all right! Take foundation and lipstick, and the problem is solved! – a familiar story? It seems that this is not the first time that herpes has spilled out, and you know for sure that it will pass and leave no trace … But where does this treacherous idea come from that herpes can be – not only a cosmetic defect, but a much more serious problem? Are these small transparent bubbles on the lips or on the skin so harmless as not to pay any attention to them? And what exactly is herpes? Where does it come from and should it be treated?

At the same time, the herpes simplex virus (HSV) is very insidious: without showing itself for a long time, one far from perfect day it can cause not only temporary cosmetic troubles, but also much more serious health problems. Up to 30% of miscarriages in early pregnancy are associated with this virus, it also leads to loss of pregnancy in the later stages in 50% of cases, including fetal death a few weeks before delivery. HSV takes the second place after the rubella virus on a kind of pedestal of viruses that cause the formation of deformities and congenital malformations of the fetus inside the uterus. This is due to the destructive effect of the virus on the organs and tissues of the fetus.

A pregnant woman infected with HSV runs the risk of infecting her child in 40% of cases. The penetration of the virus to the fetus can occur through the placenta or from the infected vagina and cervix, as well as from the abdominal cavity through the fallopian tubes. 85% of children become infected during childbirth, passing through the infected genital tract of the mother or with premature rupture of amniotic fluid, which is fraught with the development of cerebral palsy, epilepsy, blindness, deafness, etc. in the child. And only 5% of children become infected with more while inside the uterus.

The mortality rate of newborns infected with herpes reaches 50-70%, and only 15% of the survivors remain healthy.

Now the role of this virus in the development of inflammatory diseases of the central nervous system (including the brain), ENT organs, respiratory organs, cardiovascular system, digestive tract and genitourinary organs is undeniable.

Genital herpes according to the World Health Organization today ranks third among sexually transmitted diseases. In severe cases, HSV, spreading throughout the body, affects several of its systems at once, including the immune and nervous systems, which can ultimately cause disability. Scientists have found that herpes viruses contribute to a faster and more severe course of HIV infection in people infected with them. HSV also plays a certain role in the development of some oncological processes …

To date, there are over a hundred types of herpes virus, of which 8 are dangerous to human health.

The most common is type 1 virus (HSV-1), infection with which can occur in the same way as with the influenza virus – coughing, sneezing or through close contact with the skin and mucous membranes of a sick person. As a rule, infection occurs in childhood or adolescence, although outwardly it may not manifest itself in any way.

Infection with herpes of the second type (HSV-2) most often occurs during the onset of sexual activity. The virus is transmitted by contact with affected skin, mucous membranes of the mouth and genitals, as well as through semen, eyes and lungs. In married couples where only one partner has a similar disease (or is a “carrier” of the virus – that is, there is a virus in the body, but does not manifest itself in any way), the risk of infection of the second partner is 10% per year.

It is traditionally believed that HSV – type 1 is localized on the upper half of the body (to the waist), affecting the skin of the face, lips, oral cavity and cornea of ​​the eye, and HSV – 2 localizes its lesions below the belt, causing diseases of the genital organs. But today this division is no longer so clearly traced. For example, cases of genital herpes caused by HSV-1 are described.

The herpes virus type 3 causes chicken pox and shingles, familiar to everyone since childhood. The herpes virus type 4 is also called the Epstein-Barr virus. This is one of the most dangerous viruses. It can cause various oncological diseases of the lymph nodes, tongue and other organs. Human herpesvirus type 6 can also lead to cancer. It also causes chronic fatigue syndrome. Type 5 virus is the cause of cytomegalovirus infection, which is especially dangerous for pregnant women, as it can lead not only to miscarriages and premature births, but also to cause the formation of severe abnormalities in the development of a newborn child. Herpes viruses types 7 and 8 are not yet well understood, but it is now known that they also predispose to cancer.

The herpes virus enters the body through the mucous membranes or through microscopic injuries on the skin (cuts, injections, scratches), and then spreads through the blood and lymph to all human systems. Herpes “settles” on the processes of nerve cells and smoothly moves towards the central nervous system, where they “settle” for life. At the same time, the presence of one type of herpes virus in the body does not exclude the possibility of infection with another type.

It is with this that the fact that very often – in 90% of cases – herpes does not cause any complaints in an infected person or any clinical manifestations of the disease is connected. In 9%, the infection may manifest as minor malaise, weakness, fatigue, and other symptoms that are usually few people attach any importance to. And only in 1% of cases all pronounced symptoms of the disease are observed.

Usually these are small bubbles with transparent contents on the skin and mucous membranes, which cause burning, itching and tension in the affected area. Moreover, itching and burning of the skin or mucous membrane most often occur 1-2 days before the appearance of the bubbles themselves, which burst and dry out after a while. In place of the bubbles, crusts form over time, which soon fall off, and there is no trace of the disease. However, the virus does not leave the body, but only “falls asleep”. Its “awakening” and the appearance of symptoms again (relapse of the disease) is facilitated by a number of factors that weaken the main enemy of herpes – the immune system. These include:

On average, about five relapses of the disease occur per year, while herpes, as a rule, affects the same areas. With a weakened immune system, rashes can occur on several areas of the skin and mucous membranes at once.

When genital herpes is affected, its symptoms occur 1-10 days after the moment of infection. The patient has a slight increase in body temperature, usually not higher than 38 degrees Celsius. This is accompanied by general malaise, weakness, inguinal lymph nodes increase, which become quite painful.

Groups of small vesicles appear on the genitals, located on reddened areas of the skin. At this time, the main complaints will be itching, burning and even pain, not only in the affected area, but also in the lumbar region, sacrum, and lower abdomen. After a couple of days, the bubbles open, small erosions or even sores can form in their place, which are then covered with a crust. The duration of genital herpes, which arose in a person for the first time, can reach 3-5 weeks.

Who should be tested for herpes viruses without fail?

When planning a pregnancy, a married couple is always advised to undergo a comprehensive examination for the presence of a herpes infection in the body and conduct adequate treatment under the supervision of a physician.

By the way, for pregnant women, the situation is more dangerous when a woman had no contact with a herpes infection before pregnancy than if a woman has endured all the “charms” of herpes manifestations more than once. It is the first “acquaintance” of the body with this virus, if it occurs during pregnancy, that can cause irreparable harm to the course of pregnancy and the development of the baby.

Unfortunately, today it is impossible to completely get rid of the herpes virus even with the best medicines, but it is possible to prevent an exacerbation of the disease at the most undesirable moment for it or to cure its manifestations. Treatment of herpes consists in the appointment of drugs that inhibit the reproduction of the virus, as well as drugs that increase the body’s defenses.

This is always individual therapy, which takes into account the manifestations and localization of the disease, its phase, the state of the immune system, the presence of pathology of other organs in the patient, the allergic mood of the body in each case. A whole system of therapeutic measures has been developed that can be used to treat women during pregnancy.

You should also not forget about seemingly banal measures to strengthen the body’s defenses: hardening, normalized physical activity, a balanced diet rich in vitamins and trace elements, quitting smoking and alcohol. Compliance with these well-known rules will definitely play a decisive, victorious role in the unequal struggle of the immune system with various infections.

Elena VYSOTSKA,
gynecologist

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