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Herpes 101


Treating Herpes Simplex Viruses

­While there's no cure for any type of herpes, there are treatments to help manage the symptoms, such as over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Anti-inflammatory drugs can also soothe the pain and itching. There are ointments available over the counter for HSV-1 that can help with the pain, but Abreva is the only one that has been shown to make the sores go away faster.

Many people with herpes simplex viruses take antiviral medications. Oral drugs such as Valtrex, Zovirax and Famvir are most effective when taken as soon as possible after the person becomes infected -- they can slow the buildup of the virus in the nerve cells. Zovirax and another antiviral medication called Denavir are also available in a cream that can be applied to the sores, but most health care providers prescribe them for HSV-1 only, believing that genital blisters should be left dry and uncovered to speed healing.

Although they can't completely stop the virus from replicating itself, these types of drugs interfere with the replication process. When outbreaks do occur, they're usually less severe and go away sooner. There has also been research to show that some people taking antiviral medications daily (as opposed to only when they have an outbreak) shed far fewer virions -- 94 percent fewer,­ according to one study [source: Herpes Resource Center­]­.

Not having sex during a genital outbreak and using condoms or dental dams during inactive periods can help reduce the risk of infection. It's recommended to avoid kissing or sharing food with others during an oral herpes outbreak and to use condoms or dental dams if performing oral sex. (Since most people acquire HSV-1 during childhood, health providers don't tell people with it to avoid kissing when there isn't an outbreak.)

Herpes is most easily diagnosed during an outbreak so the health provider can swab the sores and perform a viral culture. There are also several different blood tests available that test for the presence of HSV antibodies. Some often give false positives, while others can't distinguish between HSV-1 and HSV-2 or whether the infection is oral or genital.

The two herpes simplex viruses are just two of the eight herpes viruses. Next, we'll look at the virus that causes chicken pox: varicella zoster.