Herpes is a very common viral infection that occurred in almost everyone in our population.


The cause is a whole group of viruses known as herpesviruses. They can cause a classic herpes on the lip (herpes simplex virus subtype HSV-1), but also herpes in the genital area (subtype HSV-2). The virus is transmitted relatively well and HSV-1 infection occurs usually in childhood by a close contact with infected object or hands. The most significant spread of HSV-2 virus occurs in adolescents by sexual contacts (classic sexual intercourse, oral sex, etc.). The main problem is that our immune system can not completely dispose of once occurred herpesviruses. Our immune system can suppress the infectious symptoms, but the virus stays in our body and hides within the local neural ganglia. If our immune system gets weakened, the virus reactivates and the herpes reappears. A similar problem is with the varicella zoster virus (also belonging to the group of herpes viruses), which causes the chickenpox and shingles.


Classical herpes on a lip looks like a small painful reddish lesion with small blisters on its surface. After few days, the lesion dries and heals. In some cases, the herpes may be accompanied with fever and painful enlargement of local lymph nodes. A herpes occurrence is usually a sign that our body is somehow weakened and it is often followed by a respiratory tract infection.


Herpesvirus is not only the cause of simple skin herpes. In newborns and in people with severely compromised immune system (such as in patients with AIDS) it can cause serious infections including encephalitis, pneumonia and eye infections. These conditions may easily result in death or cause lifelong consequences including visual impairment.


The diagnosis of herpes is easy to make. In case of uncertainty, the patient may be examined by a dermatologist.


The treatment of herpetic infections is sometimes difficult. Our immune system is unable to completely remove the virus. Luckily, there are some effective antiviral drugs that can treat the herpesvirus infections. Virostatic agents containing substance known as acyclovir are especially effective. These drugs can be taken in form of a locally applied ointments, in form of tablets or even intravenous injections. In addition, the lesion may be treated by applications of alcohol-containing solutions as the alcohol evaporates from the skin and dries the herpes lesion.


Serious herpesvirus infections must be treated by large doses of acyclovir that are regularly administered in parenteral form.


Jiri Stefanek, MD  Author of texts: Jiri Stefanek, MD
 Contact: jiri.stefanek@seznam.cz
 Sources: basic text sources