Are you aware that herpes simplex and herpes zoster are two different medical conditions? It’s common for the words to be used interchangeably, with the false belief that they refer to the same condition. This isn’t the case.
Overview of Herpes Simplex versus Herpes Zoster
Herpes simplex is an STD (sexually transmitted disease) that is caused by HSV-1 or HSV-2. On the other hand, herpes zoster is caused by VZV (varicella-zoster virus).
Herpes simplex is prevalent in the USA as well as in many other countries across the world.According to the CDC, approximately 16% of people between the ages of 14 and 49 have HSV 2 infection. Nevertheless, the prevalence of the STD is higher than 16% because most of the new infections are as a result of HSV 1.
Conversely, 34% of the general population stands a chance of developing herpes zoster before they die. In the USA alone, about a million cases of the condition are reported every year.
Everyone who’s survived chicken pox can develop herpes zoster, including children. However, the risk of developing the medical condition increases with advancement in age.
Approximately 50% of reported cases occur in adults above the age of 60 years.
Symptoms of Herpes Simplex vs Herpes Zoster
In the case of herpes simplex, patients usually exhibit extremely mild symptoms that can be unnoticeable or mistaken for a different skin condition.
In other cases, symptoms may not occur at all. When symptoms occur, they’re characterized by the appearance of herpes lesions as multiple blisters or vesicles on the genitals, mouth and/or rectum.
Upon exposure to the HSV-1 or HSV-2, the standard incubation period is four days.
When an initial herpes infection occurs, the blisters/ vesicles break up and leave extremely painful ulcers that make patients uncomfortable for about three weeks.
In the case of herpes zoster, painful rashes appear on one or both sides of the body or face. The rashes develop into blisters which characteristically scab over in 8 days. Eventually, they disappear within a period of three weeks.
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Before development of the rashes, you may experience pain, tingling or an itching sensation in the spot where development of rashes will occur. You may experience the pain, itching and/or tingling about three days before appearance of the rashes.
Typically, rashes occur in single stripes on one side of the face/ body. In extreme cases (particularly in people with weak immune systems), rashes are widespread and resemble those caused by chicken pox. Herpes zoster can adversely affect your eyes, thus resulting in loss of vision.
Fever, stomach upsets, headache and chills are other common symptoms of herpes zoster/ shingles.
Transmission of Herpes Zoster vs Herpes Simplex
Herpes simplex infections are spread via physical contact with HSV-1 or HSV-2 in herpes lesions, oral secretions, mucosal surfaces as well as genital secretions. The two aforementioned types of viruses can be obtained from mucosa or skin surfaces (genital or oral) that appear perfectly normal.
Typically, one can only contract HSV-2 during close genital contact with a patient who carries genital HSV-2. Oral sex with someone who’s infected with HSV-1 can also result in transmission of the virus.
Transmission generally occurs during physical contact with infected partners with no visible lesions, as well as those who’re ignorant of their health condition.
On the other hand, herpes zoster can’t be transmitted from one infected individual to another uninfected person. However, the VZV virus may spread from an individual with herpes zoster to another who’s never been a victim of chicken pox.
If this occurs, development of chicken pox may occur, but the affected individual may not develop herpes zoster.
Typically, VZV is transmitted via direct physical contact with fluids in rash blisters/ vesicles caused by herpes zoster.
Anyone with active herpes zoster can spread VZV virus when rashes are in blister phase. Before the appearance of blisters, an individual isn’t infectious. Additionally, when the rashes eventually crust, the infected individual ceases to be contagious.
Complications Caused By Herpes Simplex versus Herpes Zoster
Herpes simplex can result in the development of extremely painful ulcers in the genitals, which can be persistent and acute in people with suppressed immunity, e.g. persons infected with HIV.
HSV-1 as well as HSV-2 can cause aseptic meningitis and appearance of extra-genital lesions on the buttocks, eyes, groin, fingers or thighs.
Additionally, the condition severely impacts the general health, relationships and sex lives of infected persons. Anyone who’s diagnosed with the condition can suffer substantial embarrassment, stigma as well as shame.
On the other hand, herpes zoster commonly results in the development of PHN (post herpetic neuralgia). PHN causes acute pain in spots where the rashes appear. The pain is usually debilitating and relentless, but it eventually subsides after a few months.
With the advancement of age, older people are at greater risk of developing PHN. In fact, it’s rarely experienced by people below the age of 40 years.
Herpes zoster can result in the development of severe eye complications. In rare cases, it may cause pneumonia, death, hearing difficulties, encephalitis or blindness.
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Prevention of Herpes Simplex vs Herpes Zoster
The risk of acquiring or spreading herpes simplex can be significantly reduced if latex condoms are used consistently and correctly.
The most effective method of avoiding the aforementioned disease as well as other STDs is complete abstinence from sexual intercourse, or being in a monogamous sexual relationship with a faithful, uninfected partner.
On the other hand, the only strategy of reducing the risk of acquiring/ transmitting herpes zoster and post herpetic neuralgia is through vaccination.
According to medical experts, anyone who’s above the age of 60 years ought to get vaccinated against herpes zoster.
Treatment of Herpes Zoster versus Herpes Simplex
Herpes simplex has no cure. However, prevention or shortening of outbreaks can be achieved with the use of anti-viral medications. Additionally, DST (daily suppressive therapy) can significantly reduce the risk of transmission.
On the other hand, herpes zoster can be effectively treated using antiviral drugs such as: acyclovir, famciclovir as well as valacyclovir.
These drugs can reduce the severity and duration of the condition. Treatment can only be effective if the infected person starts taking the drugs immediately the rash appears.
If you suspect you may have, or you actually have herpes zoster, it’s important for you to get in touch with a healthcare provider with the objective of discussing treatment options.
The persistent pain caused by herpes zoster can be relieved with the use of analgesics, whereas itching can be alleviated using wet compresses, colloidal oatmeal baths as well as calamine lotion.