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The Herpes Virus

Herpes is a virus that can cause sores on the skin. It is a chronic (lifelong) virus. It can cause sores and discomfort. You get it from contact with someone who carries the virus. There are two types of the virus. If sores occur on the lips, you have oral herpes. If sores occur on the penis or around the vagina or anus, you have genital herpes.

Understanding the Herpes Virus

Herpes reproduces only when it is inside the body. It does so by tricking a healthy cell into producing copies of the herpes virus. Each copy can infect nearby cells. But, before too long, the body’s defenses rally to stop the attack. The immune system forces the virus to retreat. For some people, an acute outbreak never happens again. For others, menstruation, illness, poor diet, fatigue, or stress makes outbreaks more likely.

How the Herpes Virus Attacks

  1. The herpes virus enters the body through a small break in the skin. The virus can also enter by direct contact with mucous membranes, such as those of the lips, vagina, or anus. (Mucous membranes are thin tissues that line body cavities and passages that are exposed to air.)

  2. Inside the body, the herpes virus binds to a special site on a skin cell. Then part of the virus moves into the cell.

  3. Inside the skin cell, the virus releases a set of instructions. These commands cause the cell to begin making copies of the herpes virus.

  4. Herpes blisters appear on the skin. Herpes blisters may also appear on mucous membranes lining the mouth, vagina, or anus.

  5. Some people have only one outbreak of sores. More commonly, an outbreak occurs every 3 to 12 months. Some people have periods of frequent outbreaks (every few weeks). Outbreaks of herpes sores may occur less frequently over time.

Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 5/15/2011
Copyright © The StayWell Company, LLC. except where otherwise noted.
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