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Herpes simplex is a nasty virus capable of producing blisters on both the lips (cold sores) and the genitals. These sores are painful and unsightly and afflict millions of people each year. The virus is spread to others by intimate contact.
Cold Sore. A cold sore or fever blister is the result of a herpes virus invasion of the skin in and around the lips. The infection begins with pain or itching, followed by the typical fluid-filled blisters. The sores form a crust and dry up some seven to ten days later. Repeated attacks may occur because the virus burrows deep under the skin and “hibernates.” Sunlight, emotional upset, and illness may awaken the virus and lead to new blisters. Some persons only develop a single episode; others are not so fortunate and develop recurrent blisters once a year or even as frequently as once a month.
Genital Herpes. Chances are great that a painful sore on the genitals is due to a herpes simplex infection. This is a venereal disease spread by sexual intercourse and oral sex. At the present time the condition is an epidemic, and the Centers for Disease Control estimates that over one million people become newly infected each year. It is believed that one in five American adults have been exposed to genital herpes. Similar to the cold sore, a genital herpes infection begins with burning or itching, followed by blisters that crust over and finally disappear. The blisters may occur on either the male or female genitalia. Many cases, especially in females, occur without noticeable signs or symptoms, and some individuals remain unaware of their infection. Confirmation of infection is accomplished by a swab taken from an active lesion.
Genital herpes may lead to serious consequences in
the newborn. A child born to a mother with herpes blisters at the time
of delivery runs a high risk of catching the virus when exiting the
birth canal. Such infection may prove fatal; thus, delivery by caesarean
section is mandatory
Cold sores are usually caused by herpes virus, which can lay dormant in the body and becomes active later when something triggers it. Two members of the herpes virus family are herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2). Once infected both persist in the body for life. HSV-1 is usually acquired by oral transmission during childhood but can also be transmitted sexually. HSV-2 is transmitted sexually. There is no cure for cold sores, but there are remedies you can use that will reduce the severity and frequency of them. Cold sores may appear after colds, fevers, exposure to the sun, stress, during menstruation, or for no apparent reason. Generally it is felt that anything that compromises the immune system may trigger the cold sores, such as infection, cancer or any illness.
Medical research in England found that many people with cold sores were low in B12, and that by adding 250 mcg. of B12 the condition improved rapidly. This research also suggested taking B complex supplements with emphasis on the B12 and folic acid. Without some of the treatments listed below cold sores may last from 10-14 days. If the sores last longer than two weeks or occur frequently, it is advisable to see your healthcare provider.
Diet may be another culprit. Researchers have found that the ratio of the amino acids arginine and lysine plays an important part in controlling (not curing!) cold sores. Arginine aids the growth and reproduction of the herpes virus, while lysine inhibits it. Foods containing chocolate, peanuts and other nuts, grains, peas, seeds, oatmeal and whole-wheat products should be cut out or reduced from the diet. These foods are high in arginine. Check with your nutritionist for foods that contain these amino acids. Brewer's yeast is beneficial. See remedy below for recommendations on taking lysine. Coffee can increase the frequency of cold sore flare-ups in individuals who are already infected with the virus.
Cold sores may indicate a deficiency in calcium. One sign of a calcium deficiency is biting your nails. Take a calcium supplement and see if the problem improves.
Many people can generally feel a cold sore coming on as they are aware of a tingling, burning or itching sensation. They may also have a fever, enlargement of lymph nodes close to the sores, or a general feeling of malaise.
If you have a cold sore already, pop the sore so it will drain and be able to dry out and heal faster.
Traditional treatments using antibiotics can cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and worse yet, prolonged use can cause drug-resistant strains of the herpes virus!
To date, herpes is incurable. Three oral medications (Famvir, Valtrex, and Zovirax) lessen the severity of each episode, and when taken on a daily basis, will lessen the frequency of attacks and the amount of viral shedding between outbreaks. Topical antiviral ointments (such as Denivir) are much less efficacious. Various other treatment modalities, including lysine pills and dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO), are without merit. All first episodes of herpes are best evaluated by a physician to ensure correct diagnosis and adequate counseling. Herpetic lesions are best kept clean and dry. A topical anesthetic (for example, Anbesol Cold Sore Therapy) may temporarily relieve the discomfort. The annoying blisters of herpes dry up within a two-week period. Herpes is most contagious when visible lesions are present, and intimate, unprotected contact should be avoided during this period. Between outbreaks of genital herpes, condom use is prudent to prevent transmission.
People afflicted with herpes should derive some consolation in the natural course of the disease: as time progresses, the number of attacks subsides, and each episode diminishes in intensity and duration. Eventually the disease simply burns itself out. Those with herpes should remain hopeful that a cure will be found within the very near future.
Prevention of cold sores is advisable. Herpes simplex is highly contagious! Avoid kissing someone with cold sores or having sex with someone who has genital herpes. Exposure to sun triggers one in four cases of cold sores. Use a sunscreen of at least 15 SPF on your lips and other susceptible areas. If stress triggers them, practice relaxation techniques. Don't use the same towels, razors or utensils as someone with cold sores. Replace your toothbrush when you feel the tingling sensation at the outbreak of an attack, after the blister breaks and when the sore is gone and be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after touching the sores.
As part of a preventive program for people who get cold sores frequently it is a good idea to boost your immune system. Try taking the herbs echinacea and goldenseal to boost immune system.
Vitamin C Take 200-500 mg. of vitamin C along with 200-500 mg. of citrus bioflavonoids three times a day. This remedy will greatly reduce the duration of the sores.
Vitamin E, applied topically, will provide pain relief.
Yogurt Eating plain yogurt (with acidophilus) with live cultures is a good preventive measure. Heat-treated yogurt won't work. People who have added yogurt to their daily diet have discovered that they don't get cold sores, or very few. Yogurt seems to stimulate the immune system.
Zinc Using zinc has been reported to reduce the duration of cold sores. Applied topically, it speeds healing. Zinc tablets may also help, but don't take more than 15 mg for more than a week or so without medical supervision. Take up to 60 mg a day for the first week.
Acidophilus Take four acidophilus capsules three or four times a day with milk. The milk is an activating culture medium for the bacilli. This will soothe the sore and speed up healing. If you do this when you feel a burning or itching at the onset of the cold sore, this remedy may inhibit the formation of the lesion.
Aloe When the tingling starts, try rubbing juice from an aloe plant on the affected area. If you are traveling, take a bottle of aloe gel with you just in case a sore begins. This remedy is especially effective if used at the first sign of a cold sore, but will also stop it later on, too, and will begin the healing process immediately and keep the sore from "blossoming."
Chaparral Native Americans used the herb chaparral (Larrea tridentata) as a remedy for colds and viruses, arthritis, burns, sores and other problems. Recently a company has patented a product called Larreastat derived from chaparral that has proven very effective in deactivating certain viruses, relieving inflammation and clearing up certain skin conditions. The product comes in capsules and a spray, which provides almost instant relief from cold sore pain.
Cornstarch Apply a cornstarch paste.
Camphor Have your pharmacist mix up some spirits of camphor and dab it on the sore with a cotton ball.
DMSO (dimethyl sulfoxide) Dab it on the sores twice daily with your fingers or a cotton ball. It stops the growth of the virus by penetrating right to the center of the herpes infection.
Grapefruit seed extract (GSE) - mix a few drops of GSE with aloe or another liquid, such as olive oil, and dab it on to the sore. GSE is very strong, so use sparingly!
Ice Another method to ease the pain is to rub an ice cube on the sore for a few minutes. This is especially good to do at the onset of a cold sore. Apply ice every ten minutes for an hour. This process may prevent the movement of the virus from the nerve to the skin.
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) German studies indicated that an extract of lemon balm reduced symptoms and sped the healing process. See mint remedy below.
Lomatium (Lomatium dissectum) has a long history of use by Native Americans. Research suggests that it may be effective against viruses and is a prime infection fighter. Use an extract instead of a tincture to avoid getting a full-body rash.
Lysine Many people have reported that taking the amino acid L-lysine has prevented or lessened the duration of their cold sores. Apparently, the herpes virus uses another amino acid, arginine, to grow and replicate while lysine inhibits the virus' ability to replicate itself. Reduce your intake of arginine-containing foods as mentioned above. If you get sores frequently take 1,500 to 3,000 mg. daily as a preventive measure. When you feel a sore coming on, take 3,000 mg daily until the sore crusts over. Experiment with the dosage until you find one that inhibits recurrence by reducing the amount until you find the optimal maintenance dosage, perhaps to 300-600 mg. Lysine may also be applied topically to the sores. If you get a cold sore, taking lysine should shorten the time you have it considerably, generally within five days. Consult your medical practitioner regarding your intake of lysine, especially if you are pregnant or nursing. No amino acid in large doses should be taken for long periods of time. Take the lysine between meals, preferably on an empty stomach.
Mint A topical application of an extract of the mint family herb Melissa officinalis will speed healing of the sore, often within five days.
Myrrh Try a tincture of myrrh to relieve the pain.
Sage Make a tea by adding two or three leaves to a cup of boiling water; steep; add one teaspoon of powdered ginger. Drink several cups a day until the sores are cleared up.
Tea Steep an ordinary tea bag (preferably Earl Grey) in boiling water for a few minutes; cool; then apply to lesions. Within four or five days the lesions should crust over and disappear.
Vaseline Vaseline will help ease cracking and dryness.
Yogurt Yogurt is high in lysine. Most commercial yogurts however have gelatin (may induce a cold sore outbreak) as a thickener, so make sure you read the label! Natural food stores carry gelatin-free yogurts
Natrum muriaticum (Nat mur) This is the first choice for cold sores around the lips and mouth, nose and chin. It's especially useful in the early stages of herpes when the upper lip is swollen but no vesicle - or fluid-containing sac such as a blister - has appeared. You may also have dry, chapped lips, your mouth may be dry and you may be thirsty. Nat mur is indicated if the person is emotionally upset.
Rhus toxicodendron (poison ivy) The herpes that are relieved by Rhus tox usually burns and itches, and acrid fluid may seep from yellow vesicles. Rhus tox is effective for the tissue crusting that occurs with herpes. Can be used after Nat mur to finish off the cold sore.
Sepia (cuttlefish ink) People needing sepia have herpatic eruptions around the lips, corners of the mouth and particularly around the nasal area with crusty eruptions inside and on the nose. People needing sepia often have dark circles under their eyes and are exhausted and depressed. Sepia is appropriate for cold sores that occur during pregnancy, before menses or in menopause.
Dulcamara (bittersweet) People needing this remedy can have thick, brown herpatic crusts with reddish borders. These crusts can bleed when scratched. Dulcamara is appropriate for blisters that appear in clusters and ooze watery fluid. Glandular swelling, burning, stinging and itching sensations may be present. For people needing dulcamara, eruptions of herpes may occur after rain or sudden changes from warm to cold or damp weather. Eruptions are also more likely to appear around menses.
Hepar sulphuris calcareum (calcium sulphide) This remedy is suitable for eruptions around mouth and lips, occasionally following the path of the nerves across the face or even around or into the eyes. Hepar sulph is needed particularly when herpes vesicles have become infected, indicated by formation of yellow pus. Hepar sulph is the main remedy for painful boils, pimples or abscesses. Hepar sulph can quickly control infection in most cases, averting the need for antibiotics.