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herpes virus, Atlanta | Dr. Kathleen J. SmithHerpes is a generic term for a strain of viruses known as herpesviridae that create blisters or skin lesions on the face and body. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), fifty to eighty percent of the population carries HHV-1/HSV-1 virus or antibodies. About twenty percent are carriers of HHV-2/HSV-2. At least one million people in the U.S. are diagnosed with one or more diseases resulting from herpesvirus each year. Patients concerned about any kind of condition or disease caused by this virus family should contact Dermatology Specialists of Atlanta without delay.

Most references classify three basic types: Type 1 (HHV-1/HSV-1) affects the mouth and upper body while Type 2 (HHV-2/HSV-2) targets the genitals and lower body. Type 3 (HHV-3), the varicella zoster virus, is responsible for outbreaks of both chicken pox and shingles lesions on the body. This virus family is highly contagious. It is important to avoid sexual activity during an outbreak but, according to the Office of Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the virus can be passed to another person even when the carrier isn’t experiencing visible signs of the disease.

Chronic, Contagious Viral Diseases

These viruses are responsible for a number of skin diseases and conditions, including oral or genital lesions; chickenpox/shingles; Epstein-Barr virus; roseolovirus; cytomeglavirus; and Kaposi’s sarcoma-related herpesvirus. These conditions present different symptoms and variations in severity.

Once contracted, HHV-1/HSV-1 and HHV-2-HSV-2 are incurable. Treatments may help patients to control virus activity or reduce the time necessary to heal lesions. Patients with concerns about a primary outbreak or repeated episodes of the disease should seek medical advice and treatment. Some outbreaks may lead to systemic illness, including pneumonia, meningitis, or encephalitis. Dermatology Specialists of Atlanta, a triple-board certified dermatology practice, evaluates, diagnoses, and treats patients with chronic skin conditions like herpes.

Diabetes, atopic dermatitis, and some occupations (e.g. dentistry) may increase the patient’s chances of herpesvirus infections. Older people, infants, and immuno-compromised individuals are a higher risk for contracting the virus. The obstetrician of a pregnant herpes carrier may recommend C-section delivery to protect the baby.


Type 1 causes oral lesions, also called cold sores. HHV-2 can also cause oral lesions that appear in small clusters rather than single blisters. Type 1 rests in nerve cells between outbreaks. Conversely, Type 2 remains in the immune system between episodes. Prior to development of lesions, the infected person experiences itching or burning in the skin. Fatigue, sore throat, and fever may present prior to lesions’ development. Sunlight or stress can prompt an outbreak of symptoms in virus carriers. Salty or acidic foods or beverages may promote an outbreak. Use of topic antivirus ointments or capsules are helpful at this stage (known as prodrome).


Dr. Kathleen J. Smith will perform an exam and take the patient’s medical history. The appearance of herpevirus blisters are often all that’s required to diagnose the patient’s condition. Vesicles appear in an active outbreak: they may ulcerate or spread in cluster-like lesions. If the patient presents with a primary genital outbreak, the dermatologist will also test for sexually-transmitted infections (STIs), including gonorrhea, hepatitis types B and C, and human papilloma virus (HPV). A skin biopsy and/or an HSV culture may be recommended to definitively confirm diagnosis. Western blot blood antibody testing enables the dermatopathologist to distinguish Type 1 or Type 2 antibodies.

Some patients may mistake the appearance of other skin diseases for a herpesvirus outbreak. Infected hair bumps, syphilitic chancre, impetigo, or aphthous stomatitis (appearing on mouth/lips) may be misidentified by the patient. A board-certified dermatologist such as Dermatology Specialists of Atlanta is required to diagnose, treat, and manage these skin diseases.


Early treatment is always recommended for herpesvirus outbreaks. In some cases, early treatment prevents the lesions from developing. Once developed, lesions can take up to three weeks to completely heal. Generic acyclovir remains an important treatment mainstay. The drug has been in use since the 1980s and is considered safe for use by pregnant (36 weeks or later) or nursing women. Many physicians recommend a long-term course of the drug or a variant to manage symptoms.

Some patients are resistant to acyclovir and similar antiviral medicines. Drugs like Foscamet may be prescribed, along with topical analgesic creams and ointments to manage pain. Moist dressings as recommended may also help sufferers of genital lesions. Painful urination that is unrelated to a urinary tract infection (UTI) may require treatment.


Herpesviridiae infections can be relatively mild or serious. The virus has been known to cross the blood-brain barrier. These chronic conditions don’t go away but they are treatable. Patients throughout greater Atlanta — including Decatur, North Decatur, Druid Hills, Gresham Park, North Atlanta, Tucker, Doraville, East Point, and Sandy Springs, GA — should call Dermatology Specialists of Atlanta now at 678-904-4932.

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