Flu-like symptoms may signal a sign of a looming herpes outbreak, experts say.
Up to 80 percent of people infected with herpes experience symptoms such as nausea, fever and muscle aches in the early stages of the infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The symptoms are believed to be a result of the immune system launching an attack on the virus.
An estimated 40 million Americans have herpes and don’t know it, leading experts to emphasize the importance of knowing the signs of the treatable but incurable disease.
Flu-like symptoms such as fever, nausea and muscle aches could be a sign of a looming herpes outbreak as the body’s immune system launches an attack on the virus (stock image)
Herpes is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases in the US affecting more than one in six Americans between ages 14 and 49, according to the CDC.
The disease is caused by two viruses, HSV-type 1, which commonly causes blisters on the mouth or face, and HSV-type 2, the more common type that typically affects the genital area.
The CDC estimates that nearly 90 percent of those infected with HSV-2 are never diagnosed.
This is in part because the majority experience very mild symptoms that are falsely attributed to something else or even no symptoms at all. Doctors also do not test for herpes unless a patient is showing symptoms.
When symptoms do occur it is typically within five to 10 days of skin-to-skin genital contact with someone who has the virus.
The most common early signs are painful urination and a tingling or burning sensation in the genital area, along with flu-like symptoms.
Herpes affects men and women differently
Herpes is twice as common in women than in men, affecting an estimated 20 percent of the former and 10 percent of the latter in the US.
The CDC suggests that this is because possibly because the genital infection is more easily transmitted from men to women than from women to men during penile-vaginal sex.
Research has also shown that female genitalia is more susceptible to STDs in general because of the soft tissue.
Another concern is that herpes symptoms are harder to spot in women because blisters and lesions can be hidden by the labia or occur within the vagina or cervix.
These can include fever, nausea, headaches, muscle pain, swollen lymph nodes and malaise, defined as a general feeling of discomfort or illness.
The symptoms are a result of the body’s immune response to virus.
For example, a fever raises body temperature which may help inactivate the virus.
When the immune system detects an infection it activates an increase in white blood cells and other systems that trigger inflammation.
This inflammation can create symptoms including pain and swelling.
The inflammation generally subsides within a couple days.
In later stages of the infection people commonly experience painful blisters in the genital area that can last for around three weeks.
While there is no known cure for the disease, it can be treated with antiviral medications.
When taken daily these medications can suppress the disease long-term and reduce the likelihood of transmitting it to others.
Without treatment, however, outbreaks may recur periodically.
If left untreated, herpes can also increase a person’s chance of getting or spreading HIV, like with other STDs.
Untreated herpes can also cause complications for women during pregnancy along with possible blindness and brain damage for the child.