Is Herpes Simplex Ever Serious?

What Is Herpes Simplex

Herpes simplex virus types I and II (HSV-1 and HSV-2) are two strains of the herpes virus family, (known as Herpesviridae), which cause highly painful infections in humans. An infection of the herpes simplex virus is often marked by watery blisters in the skin or mucous membranes of the mouth and lips or is found on the genitals.

Symptoms of Herpes Types

Herpes simplex virus types I and II are the main cause of recurring facial and genital herpetic lesions, respectively. Herpes simplex virus type I is usually not considered dangerous. While the symptoms are usually considered painful and irritating, there is little cause for concern for the symptoms presenting anything more than that.

Herpes simplex virus type II can be classified as a sexually transmitted disease (STD), which the related symptoms can lead to substantial psychological trauma. Herpes simplex virus type II can also be a leading cause of encephalitis -- a much rarer but very serious affliction.

Dangers Associated With Herpes Simplex Viruses

While herpes simplex virus type I generally does not provide a serious risk, there are conditions that can lead to a potentially more serious situation. For patients who suffer from eczema, the symptoms of herpes simplex virus type I can lead to physical discomfort.

Scratching the eye is strongly not recommended, as a resulting spread of the infection can cause a serious ulcer on the cornea, potentially lead to blindness. It usually presents no serious risk, but it can be very unpleasant for patients who have eczema.

It also can infect the eyes, and can cause a serious ulcer on the cornea. While the spread of infection for adults is usually mild to rare, the herpes simplex virus can cause a rare, but serious illness in infants.

The Dangers of Infecting Babies

Unborn babies can contract the neonatal herpes virus if a mother contracts a genital infection in the final trimester of pregnancy. If contracted, the symptoms begin to appear within the first six weeks of life. The estimated yearly rate of neonatal herpes in the United States can average out to be one child in two thousand to five thousand deliveries a year, which results in approximately fifteen hundred to twenty two hundred infants with the disease.

  • Forty percent of the condition is found confined to the skin, eye and mouth.
  • Thirty five percent of the condition in found in the brain (encephalitis).
  • Twenty five percent have a widespread (disseminated) version of the disease, involving the lungs, liver, adrenal glands, skin, eyes and mouth.
  • Sixty to seventy five percent of these infants also have encephalitis and more than twenty percent do not show signs of skin lesions.

Protecting Yourself and the Baby

The best solution to protect a baby is to get a medical checkup to see if the virus is already being carried. It is also important to check with a partner to see if they have genital herpes and if there is any uncertainty from a potentially pregnant mother, then consult with a doctor.


Photo Credit: AJC1

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