Herpes is a virus responsible for affecting the skin, mucous membranes and sometimes the nervous system, characterized by attacks of eruption of small vesicles, painful and filled with fluid on the skin, mouth, lips (pimple fever), eyes or genitals. It is extremely contagious and persists throughout life. There are two types of herpes.
Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) is transmitted mainly through contact with the mucous membranes of the mouth and causes infections in or around the mouth (orofacial / labial herpes). It can also be transmitted through oral-genital contact and lead to infection in or around the genital area (genital herpes). The World Health Organization estimates that in 2016, 3.7 billion people under the age of 50 were infected with this form of the virus. It is usually contracted during childhood.
During symptomatic outbreaks, contagiousness is maximum. But the virus can also be transmitted outside of these periods. Reactivation of latent oral or genital HSV infection may be triggered by fever, emotional stress, or immunosuppression.
For people who are immunocompromised, the virus can be more virulent and the recurrences more numerous. More rarely, severe complications such as encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or keratitis (inflammation of the eye) are observed.
The herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) is transmitted almost exclusively through the sexual route. WHO estimates that 491 million people between the ages of 15 and 49 are infected with this form of herpes. Infection with HSV-2 almost multiplies the risk of acquiring HIV infection by a factor of three.
Genital herpes is most often asymptomatic. Most carriers of the infection are unaware of their condition. In some cases, it causes itching, burning, small blisters and sores in the genitals. Recurrences are frequent, however the symptoms are less severe and the frequency of relapses decreases over time.
Using a condom can help limit the spread of the virus, but there may be flare-ups outside of the covered areas.