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Herpes: It Hurts Like Hell


As much as 90 percent of the US population is estimated to be infected with the HSV 1, also known as herpes simplex 1, or the oral herpes virus.

We spend a lot of time talking about HIV stigma here at Plus, but I learned the hardway how other health-related stigma can just pop up anytime in life.

One Saturday morning, I'd had a tingling, slightly burning feeling in my lower lip. It felt like my lips often do when I'm developing a chapped lip — it’s been a cold winter — by  Sunday a small area of my lip felt puffy, kinda like a zit. Now I've had one of those painful pimples in the past that pop up in that tortuously painful border zone where lip meets skin which is what I feared. By Monday, it was throbbing and oh so painful.

That particular Monday, I went in to be a teacher for a day at my niece’s school. At the point when it was my turn to read a story to the kids, my niece's teacher, Mrs. Vincetore, whispered in my ear "Mr. A., I think you shouldn't be touching anything or the children today, do you have your meds?"

I had no clue what she was talking about.

"I get them too, you have to treat it right away you know."

“What I repeated?”

“Herpes,” she whispered.

I freaked out for a second. Then I excused myself and called my doctor and said it was an emergency. I could be seen right away.

Both HSV 1 and HSV 2 are very similar and both can lead to genital herpes if the sores are active and if there is mouth to genital contact. What I didn’t know was that you could have asymptomatic oral herpes for years without an outbreak — until you do. WebMD says, “When you encounter certain stresses, emotional or physical, the virus may reactivate and cause new sores and symptoms.”

For people with HIV, herpes can pose slightly more aggravated symptoms, and open sores can transmit the virus, AIDSMap suggests, “Avoid having sex (oral, anal or vaginal), if you have symptoms or feel them starting. Don’t share sex toys, or cover them with a condom or wash them between uses. Avoid kissing if you or your partner has a cold sore. Avoid touching any affected area; thorough hand-washing will reduce the risk of spreading the infection if you do touch it.” 

Using a condom for anal, vaginal and oral sex offers a degree of protection from infection with herpes, or from passing on the virus to somebody else. However, protection isn’t complete as the skin around the genital area may also carry the infection. 

My doctor gave me a week's worth of Zovirax. Taking it five times a day, I soon experienced a very pronounced side effect: “malaise.” No joke, I was in the dumps by day three. But I soldiered on and the medication soon shut down my herpes outbreak.

Get to know the signs of a herpes outbreak and take the precautions necessary during those periods. Because the virus is so wide-spread you can also keep this in mind, when you feel embarrassed: the majority of people will end up in your shoes one day.





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