Just the name is enough to send shivers down the spine.
If your one of the hundreds of millions of people worldwide who suffer from one or more forms of the herpes simplex viruses, you’re not alone. As many as 90% of American adults have the oral form HSV-1 or cold sores on or around the lips, and the New England Journal of Medicine reports that as many as 20% of Americans over the age of 12 (or 45 million) have the genital form HSV-2.
(Don’t confuse it with herpes zoster, which is the virus that causes chicken pox and shingles.)
Once contracted, oral and/or genital herpes can never be completely eradicated. It is a virus that actually lives on your nerves. It can go dormant for a period of time, and then reactivate in a mass of blisters in times of stress, fatigue, and other triggers. The blisters usually resolve in two to three weeks on their own.
Some prescription medications have shown success in minimizing outbreaks, or even preventing them when taken prophylactically. But not everybody responds to them.
There are many alternative ways to treat and minimize the outbreak of herpes. But just like with medication, not every idea will work for everyone. Trial and error will point you in the right direction.
An Ounce of Prevention.
If you are one of the lucky few who don’t have a form of the virus already, the best thing you can do to avoid getting it is to avoid physical contact with someone who is having an outbreak. You should even avoid touching anything they have touched. Ideally, someone enduring an outbreak will practice first-class hygiene and wash their hands thoroughly many times a day, especially after touching the affected area.
This means, not kissing your sweetie, not sharing drinking glasses or silverware, abstaining from oral sex (because the oral form can be passed to someone genitally), and avoiding any perineal contact if they’re having an HSV-2 outbreak.
It is generally considered “safe” to resume regular contact once the sores have dried up and the last bit of scab has sloughed off. But remember, a sufferer can pass the virus on to others right before they become symptomatic, so neither partner may even be aware of the danger.
If you do already carry the virus, there are steps you can take to avoid outbreaks.
Avoid prolonged sun exposure. If you must go out without a hat, wear lip balm or lipstick with a high SPF factor. Eat a healthy diet, and don’t overindulge in alcohol. Get plenty of sleep. Deal with stress in a healthy way, and get regular appropriate exercise.
When you do get an outbreak, do your part to protect others. Wash your hands frequently (especially after touching a sore) with hot soapy water. When possible, dry with disposable towels to avoid using a common cloth that might act as a matrix to passing the virus to others.
Is Worth a Pound of Cure
Once you feel that telltale hot and tingly sensation of an oncoming outbreak, what can you do to minimize the damage?
Applying cold or heat to the area may help with the discomfort. Some people believe that applying ice directly to an emerging cold sore can help abort it.
If you’re having a genital herpes outbreak, wear loose cotton briefs to help air circulate and promote healing. An occasional warm bath with Epsom salts might feel good, as well. Dabbing on baking soda or cornstarch can help absorb the oozing fluids and speed the drying process. You might try a drop or two of ether on each sore. It can promote faster crusting and healing.
One popular home remedy is to dilute apple cider vinegar with water and dab it on the sores. If you do this a few times a day, it can help speed the drying of the sores and the healing process. You can even leave a soaked cotton ball on a sore overnight if the discomfort warrants it.
The amino acid lysine has been shown in labs to disrupt the virus. You can add more lysine to your diet by consuming brewer’s yeast, chicken, eggs, fish, potatoes, and probiotic yogurt. Propolis, a resin made by bees, may speed healing, as does zinc cream.
You can always bolster your immune system with the usual suspects. These would include vitamins A, B-6, B-12, C, E and the minerals zinc and selenium. Eating some forms of seaweed may have a similar effect.
Herpes thrives in an acidic environment, so it is important to maintain your body’s ideal pH environment. Avoid foods like alcohol, coffee, fried foods, processed foods, red meat, soft drinks, sugar, tomatoes, and white vinegar. You may want to add to your diet more fruits (except citrus), green and yellow vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fish, and chicken.
Many people use a variety or herbal or natural topical remedies including: aloe vera, black coffee, burdock, comfrey, dandelion, Domeboro powder,eucalyptus, goldenseal, herbal tea, the edible gypsy mushroom or Rozites caperata, licorice, lemon balm, Manuka honey, myrrh, olive oil (warmed with lavender oil and beeswax), oregano oil, peppermint oil, prunella vulgaris, rhubarb cream, St. John’s wort, Siberian ginseng, used cool tea bags, and tea tree oil. Many of these can be found in retail oils, creams, and balms.
Some homeopathic remedies that may provide relief include: aconitum, apis, arsenicum bromatum, croton tiglium, dulcamara, graphites, hepar sulphuris, kreosotum, lachesis, mercurius, natrum muriaticum, ranunculus, rhus toxicodendron, sepia, and thuya.
Unfortunately, there is no one cure that will help all people. Some patients will respond better to conventional medicine, and some will be more receptive to alternative methods. If you have one or more forms of the herpes virus, you are just going to have to try and try again until you find the solution that works for you.
Once you have the virus, it will never completely leave your body, but you will learn how to avoid the outbreaks and minimize and manage the discomfort and inconvenience they cause. Herpes may be a life sentence, but it doesn’t have to be hard time.