If you’re like many of my patients who are old enough to remember when “The Love Bug” (what the media termed the herpes virus), reached near epidemic levels back in the 70’s, you may wonder if a cure has been found in the last 40 years or if it’s still a problem as a sexually transmitted disease.

Well, no, a cure hasn’t been found, and yes, it is still a problem as sexually transmitted diseases go. In fact, some 80 million people in the United States alone have HSV (herpes simplex virus)-2, the “below the waist” type of herpes, a statistic that includes both adults and teenagers between the ages of 14-19!

What you also may not know is that, despite lack of a cure for herpes, there are some natural ways that you can prevail over a herpes infection, perhaps resulting in long-term remission. First, for those of you who are not familiar with what herpes is, how it is transmitted, treated, etc, let me give you the same basic facts that I share with my patients.

What Is An HSV-2 Herpes Infection?

Plain and simple, herpes is a viral infection transmitted by sexual contact with a herpes-infected person. Herpes is transmitted most frequently to another person when the infected person is actively shedding the virus from herpes sore on either their genital region or their mouth.

However, the virus may also be shed at other times when there is no sore present in what’s called asymptomatic transmission. However, this doesn’t occur in all cases. It depends a lot on how strong your immune system is whether you will contract a herpes infection from another person. In addition, an infected person can spread the herpes virus to another part of their own body, like their eyes or mouth, by touching sores when they are present, forgetting to wash their hands, and then touching a part of their body.

Many people do not know that they have a herpes infection because they may not have typical symptoms. They may not have associated a genital sore with a herpes infection as they can be mistaken for pimples or heat rash. It’s possible, then, to spread herpes to another person unknowingly. A person should be tested for HSV-2 when a sore is present. A viral smear is taken from the sore area and sent for analogy at a lab that can determine if the HSV-2 virus is present.

What Are The Symptoms of HSV-2 Herpes Infection?

Many of my patients are surprised to find out they have a herpes HSV-2 infection as their symptoms were so mild they didn’t notice them or associate symptoms they may have had with a herpes infection. Some patients thought initial herpes symptoms were the flu or a cold. Others have had a strong reaction when first infected and their symptoms were easily diagnosed as a herpes infection. It all depends on your particular immune system and how strong it is at the time of infection as to whether you will get a full-blown outbreak or just vague symptoms. In general, however, here are the usual symptoms of a herpes infection:

•Reddened, sensitive, “tingling” skin appears in the genital region from 2 to 20 days after the virus is transmitted. This skin may also itch or burn. This is the “prodrome”, or warning symptoms, that a herpes outbreak is imminent. The virus settles into nerves around the area of infection and causes the area to get a sometimes intense tingling.
•A single, or cluster, of small blisters may then appear. Depending on their location, these can be painful and make it hard to sit comfortably.
•Flu-like symptoms may also accompany the outbreak and can include fever, headache, muscle aches, and fatigue.
•The urethra may be involved in the infection and can cause painful and burning urination.
•Many people have between 5-7 outbreaks of herpes a year, which then decrease in frequency as time goes by. However, some people don’t have any outbreaks for years. Outbreaks commonly occur around stressful periods of your life.

Prevention of Herpes Infection

Since many people don’t know they may have a herpes infection, the easiest way to protect against herpes infections is to take precautions with a new sexual partner:

•Latex condoms: Always use a latex condom with a new sexual partner. Latex has been proven to block the herpes virus where other forms of condoms have not. However, even the latex condoms may not be 100% foolproof protection.
•Foam contraceptives: These contain nonoxynol-9 that has been proven to kill the herpes virus and other STDs in lab tests. A combination of this type of foam inserted into the vagina before sex along with using a latex condom gives you twice the protection.
•Abstinence: If you have herpes, refrain from sexual activity when you are broken out with the blisters, as this is the active shedding virus phase of the infection and the time most likely to infect another person.
•Monogamy: Limit your sexual partners to 1 person who also has sex only with you.

Treatments for Herpes

When I tell my patients that there is nothing, at the moment, that I can give them that will cure herpes they often get angry or depressed. Researchers are currently working on vaccines for herpes HSV-2 but even those won’t do anything for people who are already infected.

However, the good news is that a herpes virus infection is easily controlled in most people and the majority forgets that they even have the virus. The key is maintaining a healthy immune system. There are some antiviral drugs out, like Isoniplex, and Acyclovir, that help stimulate the immune response, but not without side effects. Unless you have a particularly weak immune system, I feel that boosting your immune system by natural methods and supplements are more beneficial.

•Diet: Make sure yours contains optimal nutrition consisting of a balanced protein, low glycemic index carbs, and high vitamin levels. Also, foods high in a protein called lysine have shown to be very beneficial in treating herpes as it has been shown in lab tests to suppress herpes virus reproduction. High-lysine containing foods include fish, chicken, lamb, beans, fruits and vegetables. Go easy on arginine-containing foods like chocolate, whole wheat, oats, as arginine boosts viral reproduction.

Exercise: Regular moderate exercise helps boost your immune system. Marathon-type exercise won’t boost your immune system more; in fact it will strain it. So, remember these words, regular, moderate.

•Sleep: Making sure you get 6-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep every day.

•Stop Worrying About It: Worrying about what’s done does no good and, in fact, compromises your immune system because it creates another form of chronic stress.

•Alternative Supplements: As mentioned above, lysine has been proven to be beneficial to herpes. Studies have shown that 500 mg of lysine a day has maintained remission in infected persons. Taking a dose of lysine at the onset of a herpes outbreak has shown to cause a rapid clearing of the lesions. Red Marine Algae (RMA), made from edible seaweed, has also shown promise for boosting immunity and fighting viral reproduction in herpes patients. Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) has been shown in German clinical studies to show promise against future outbreaks of herpes when applied to initial outbreaks. Green, Black, White teas have shown clinical promise as antiviral. Green and Black tea have been effective at stopping herpes-1 (oral herpes) outbreaks. Geen and White tea have been shown to be effective against ! suppressing herpes HSV-2 infection. Green Tea Extract contains high amounts of EGCG, which has been proven to be an immune system booster.

Learning you have herpes can be upsetting. It can make you feel bad about yourself and it can strain or ruin relationships. However, like many of my patients, you may have contracted an HSV-2 infection many years ago unknowingly from a partner who didn’t know they had it. You can’t change the past, but you can change the present and the future. Following the guidelines above can help you prevent, or manage, a herpes infection. Keeping your immune system in good shape using the natural suggestions listed here will go a long way in helping you suppress further herpes outbreaks. Maintaining a positive mindset and not focusing on having herpes can also help your immune system stay strong and you to feel good.

Jay Brachfeld, M.D.


Author's Bio: 

•BS Chemistry Massachusetts Institute of Technology
•MD State University of New York at Buffalo School of Medicine
•Dermatology Residency: Baylor College of Medicine
•Board Certified in Dermatology
•Member American Academy of Dermatology