What is Herpes Simplex Virus?
HSV stand for “herpes simplex virus.” While there are many strains of the herpes viruses, HSV causes one of the most common sexually transmitted disease process that frequently effects the mouth and genitalia. HSV type-1 typically causes the mouth lesions most commonly known as “cold sores.” HSV type-1 can also cause lesions in the genital area, however; these lesions are most commonly caused by HSV type-2. Both species of HSV results in the eruption of tiny fluid-filled lesions that always ulcerate and then scab over before completely disappearing. Prior to eruption of the lesion, the individual may experience pain, itching and tingling in the affected area. The disease process is characterized by a severe initial or primary outbreak of the lesions that eventually go into remission, usually several days to weeks after they appear. There is no cure for HSV. During remission, the virus lays dormant in the roots of the spinal column that can result in reactivation of the infection at any time. Reactivation of the virus is usually triggered by extreme emotional or physical stress which includes inadequate rest, malnutrition, impaired immunity, and chronic illness. Reactivation of the infection is usually less severe than the initial or primary outbreak in relation to the number of lesions present and the length of time to ulceration and disappearance. The affected individual experiences fewer reactivations of the virus over a period of years. However, the absence of active disease does not mean the virus is gone.
How is Herpes Simplex Virus Transmitted?
HSV is transmitted through unprotected, high risk sexual intercourse. The risk for acquiring HSV increases with each unprotected contact. As many as 90% of individuals may not be aware that they have the virus. Although the transmission of the disease occurs with direct contact of an active lesion, there has been documented evidence that shed of the virus is possible without active disease. This means that there are individuals that are capable of transmitting the virus without physical signs and symptoms. The CDC recommends that all sexually active adults use condoms, limit the number of sexual partners and modify risky sexual behaviors to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases like HSV.
How is Herpes Simplex Virus Diagnosed?
It is possible to diagnosed the presence of HSV on physical examination of patients with the characteristic active lesions. However, most practitioners will confirm the initial diagnosis with simple diagnostic lab work to test for the presence of HSV DNA.
How is Herpes Simplex Virus Treated?
Traditional treatment for HSV is usually symptomatic which includes oral and topical analgesics for pain and discomfort caused by the lesions. Many practitioners with prescribe oral antiviral therapy to reduce the symptoms and severity of the primary outbreak. In addition, patients who experience 3 or more reactivations of the virus in one year may be given the same antiviral therapy for suppression which is also somewhat effective in prevention of spread of the disease. Newer treatments for the initial / primary outbreak and reactivation of the virus include hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT).
How does Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Help?
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy delivers very high levels of oxygen in a dissolved state for immediate use by the cells and tissues of the body. The levels of oxygen that are provided far exceed those that an individual would normally acquire on room air or with supplemental oxygen through a mask or nasal cannula. HBOT works well with the traditional antiviral therapies to reduce pain and speed the healing time of the lesions which results in faster resolution of active disease and decreases the time required by antiviral therapy alone to achieve remission of the virus. In addition, the adding the benefits of HBOT to the traditional antiviral regimen helps prevent a complication of HSV known as post herpetic neuralgia or PHN. PHN is a condition that results in neurological pain that is caused by inflammation and irritation of the nerves that have been affected with each activation of the virus. PHN is a condition that last long after the active lesions have resolved and can require further treatment with medications that treat nerve pain. The nerve pain associated with PHN is troublesome for individuals who develop it. Signs and symptoms of PHN include burning, tingling, sharp, jabbing and deep pain in areas where pressure is applied to nerves that have been affected. This can lead to difficulties in standing, sitting and walking. HBOT significantly decreases the amount of nerve inflammation during a primary outbreak or reactivation of the virus which reduces the risk of developing this complication of HSV infection.