BY DR LYDIA THURTON
She cried her eyes out in my office. She felt like she’d done the worst thing imaginable. After years of searching for a nice man to partner with she had finally found him. Now, she felt as though she had ruined everything. She was devastated. Her partner was hurt, but forgiving. She’d given her boyfriend genital herpes. And she didn’t know how.
I assured her that this is unfortunate but common. I also told her that over three billion people worldwide are infected with one form or another of the herpes virus and most people do not even know it. The single biggest problem with genital and to a certain degree oral herpes is the associated shame and embarrassment. I’m a strong believer that when we talk about things, it dissolves shame and I was really proud of her for telling me the hard truth. Let’s look at some facts about the herpes virus. If you have genital herpes, or if you’ve had a cold sore on your lip you have the virus in your system for the duration of your life. Might as well learn about it and come to a state of acceptance.
Genital herpes is caused by HSV-2 and herpes on the lip is caused by HSV-1. There are increasing rates of HSV-1 causing genital herpes. Women are more susceptible than men to catching the HSV virus and it tends to reoccur more often and more severely for women. Despite all the hype, HSV infection is relatively minor. The initial outbreak is the worst. Painful sores appear, lymph nodes swell, and you can have nerve or urinary pain. After about three weeks the virus regresses into the nerve bundle at the base of the spine and lives there indefinitely in a dormant state.
In the first year of the virus it typically recurs four times. Each subsequent year reoccurrences tend to occur less and less and outbreaks create less severe symptoms. The immune system learns to better manage the virus. If you get run down or stressed out the virus might activate itself. Symptoms can be so mild that many people don’t realize they are having an outbreak. This is how the virus gets spread. 80% of people with the virus have symptoms so mild, they don’t realize they have it. The virus can shed without any symptoms at all 1-3% of the time and typically that is when an unsuspecting partner will pick it up.
Condoms help protect against the transmission of the virus, but if a person has sores in an area where a condom doesn’t cover then you are not protected. Acyclovir, an antiviral medication, can be taken to reduce the incidence of occurrence by about 90% when taken daily. Taken during an outbreak it can reduce the time the virus causes symptoms by one or two days.
Natural remedies include L-Lysine. I suggest 3g daily during an active outbreak and 1g daily as a preventative help. The virus can become active when you push your body too hard. I advocate self-care as a way of preventing reoccurrences. Protect your sleep and monitor your stress. If you are experiencing frequent flare ups your immune system is probably struggling. A naturopathic doctor can help you decide what herbs to use to assist your immunity.
The World Health Organization has stated that as much as 2/3 of the human population has been exposed to some sort of herpes virus. That means that many of us have this and either do not know it or do not talk about it. If you have genital herpes, know that you are not alone. By telling partners and reaching out for help you help break the stigma around this all too common disease.