Facts About Herpes

To dispel confusion about oral and genital variations of the virus, Dr. Tom Ferguson discussed the facts about herpes in this installment of his regular column.


| March/April 1981


Genital herpes isn't the sort of subject that we usually cover in MOTHER EARTH NEWS. However, since there has been a good bit of seemingly misleading information about this illness in the media lately—and because so much of that information has been of a "scare story" nature—we felt that our readers deserved the facts about herpes and an opportunity to read a matter-of-fact discussion of the "new" disease that has affected the lives of a great many North Americans.  


An Epidemic of Ignorance

It's estimated that some 20 million Americans now have sexually transmitted herpes, a disease that's been called "the heartbreaker" largely because health workers often say (incorrectly!) that it is incurable. The fact is, however, that the body itself can cure this infection, and that people who help their bodies deal with it suffer less frequent and less severe attacks.

Herpes is caused by either of two closely related viruses: the herpes simplex virus types 1 and 2 (HSV-1 and HSV-2). Both the HSV's are "contact viruses": that is, they're spread from person to person by direct skin-to-skin contact... usually kissing (in the case of the familiar oral, or labial, herpes that's usually called a cold sore) or sexual contact (in the case of genital herpes). In fact, the only difference between cold sores and genital herpes is in the location of the infection!

Genital herpes sores are painful reddish blisters that erupt on the penis, on the vaginal lips, or inside the vagina. They last from one to several weeks, then disappear.

Many "experts" call herpes incurable because there is—at present—no drug capable of destroying the virus and no vaccine able to confer immunity. The same facts are true, of course, of the common cold ... and the body deals with a herpes infection in the same way it copes with a cold: It mobilizes the immune system to cure it.

Furthermore, in the immune-system/herpes battle, the former is heavily favored. In fact, only about one-third of the people who acquire the virus ever experience the recurrent flare-ups commonly thought to be always associated with it.

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