Herpes simplex: Diagnosis, treatment, and outcome

How do dermatologists diagnose herpes simplex?

During an outbreak, a dermatologist often can diagnose herpes simplex by looking at the sores. To confirm that a patient has herpes simplex, a dermatologist may take a swab from a sore and send this swab to a laboratory.

When sores are not present, other medical tests, such as blood tests, can find the herpes simplex virus.

How do dermatologists treat herpes simplex?

There is no cure for herpes simplex. The good news is that sores often clear without treatment. Many people choose to treat herpes simplex because treatment can relieve symptoms and shorten an outbreak.

Most people are treated with an antiviral medicine. An antiviral cream or ointment can relieve the burning, itching, or tingling. An antiviral medicine that is oral (pills) or intravenous (shot) can shorten an outbreak of herpes.

Prescription antiviral medicines approved for the treatment of both types of herpes simplex include:

  • Acyclovir
  • Famciclovir
  • Valacyclovir

Taken daily, these medicines can lessen the severity and frequency of outbreaks. They also can help prevent infected people from spreading the virus.

Outcome

The first (primary) outbreak of herpes simplex is often the worst. Not all first outbreaks are severe, though. Some are so mild that a person does not notice. When the first outbreak of genital herpes is mild and another outbreak happens years later, the person can mistake it for a first outbreak.

Some people have 1 outbreak. For others, the virus becomes active again. When they have another outbreak, it is called a recurrence. These tend to be more common during the first year of infection. Over time, the outbreaks tend to become less frequent and milder. This is because the body makes antibodies (defenses) to the virus.

Serious complications rarely occur in healthy people with herpes simplex. They occur most often in unborn babies, newborns, and people who have a long-term illness or weak immune system. If you have cancer or HIV/AIDS, or you had an organ transplant, seek medical help right away if you have signs or symptoms of a herpes infection.

Learn more about herpes simplex:

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