Herpes is an infectious disease which is caused by the HSV-1 and HSV-2 herpes simplex viruses. Infections with the HSV-1 virus usually cause lip herpes, while infections with the HSV-2 virus usually cause genital herpes; however, both types of virus can principally occur on every part of the body. Anyone who has been infected with the herpes virus will never get rid of it. The viruses are reactivated and cause the typical symptoms on the lips or in the genital area in certain situations.

There are many different types of herpes viruses. Besides the herpes simplex viruses, the varicella zoster virus that causes chicken pox and shingles is also a herpes virus. Or the Epstein Barr virus, which causes glandular fever. Infection with herpes simplex viruses are very common. It is estimated that around 70% of the Swiss population carries the HSV-1 virus in them and around 20% the HSV-2 virus. Infection with the HSV-1 virus often already occurs in childhood, while the HSV-2 virus is transmitted primarily through sexual contact.

The herpes simplex viruses usually remain dormant in the body and do not cause any symptoms. Certain situations can cause an activation of the viruses with a herpes outbreak. They include sunlight, fever, colds, stress or conditions which weaken the immune system; for example, cancer. However, a herpes outbreak can also occur for no apparent reason.

Herpes can occur everywhere on the skin or on the mucosa of the body. However, the lips and genital area are affected most frequently. Herpes usually begins with tingling and itching on the site of the outbreak, followed by the formation of blisters. The blisters pop after some time and crust over. Herpes can be extremely painful in the genital area in particular. In rare cases, herpes can occur in the eyes. If this happens, it is important to consult a doctor as quickly as possible.

Herpes is usually already diagnosed on the basis of the typical clinical picture of the skin blisters and the symptoms. If required, the herpes virus can be detected with a skin swab.

Herpes is treated as the symptoms occur. The symptoms can be alleviated with salves or creams which contain antiviral substances. A herpes outbreak usually heals within around a week without any consequences.

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