Candida yeast infection (candidiasis) and herpes are two completely distinct infections. Herpes is an infection caused by the Herpes simplex virus (HSV). HSV1 causes cold sores (oral herpes) and may also cause genital herpes; HSV2 causes genital herpes, but can also infect the mouth. While oral herpes is spread by direct contact, genital herpes is sexually transmitted. Yeast infections, on the other hand, are caused by infection causing yeast Candida.
Although herpes and candidiasis are distinct infections, either of these infections may make you more susceptible to get the other infection. Although dual infections in immunocompetent people are rare, they can still occur – for example, dual oesophageal infections in immunocompetent people with HSV and candida have been reported in literature in 2005, 2007 and 2011.
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How can candida infection put you at higher risk for getting herpes?
Candida is a normal microorganism of the oropharyngeal (mouth and pharynx), gastrointestinal (gut) and urogenital tract and lives in these environments without causing any problem. Our immune system and our normal microbial flora work to keep the growth of candida in balance. There are a large number of mechanisms by which our immune system defends against candida; there are also an equally large number of mechanisms by which candida evades our immune system. When there is a disturbance in the body environment, candida wins the fight against our immune system, becomes invasive and starts growing fast and causes infection. The first thing that you need to remember is that if you already have candida infection, your immune system is already compromised.
Research published by Swedish researchers in 2005 showed that women who had chronic vaginal candida infection had higher levels of the stress hormone “cortisol” in their blood. According to these researchers the stress hormones can be either due to lifestyle issues or due to candida infection triggering stressed relationships. Chronic stress has been linked with impairment of immunity. Thus, not only can you get candida infection from having chronic stress, you can also get chronic stress from having candida. Either way, your immune system is not under optimal conditions and will make you susceptible to other infections like oral or genital herpes apart from other infections. Added to a lower immunity will be damage to the mucous membranes of oropharyngeal tract and vagina.
How can herpes infection put you at a higher risk for getting candida?
It is well known that herpes viruses affect our immune response. A study by Russian scientists in 1995 showed that viral infection (including that by HSV2) of the genitals reduces the immunity afforded to us by the immune cells. A cell study published in 2008 by researchers from Italy showed that HSV1 causes dysfunction of our immune response against fungi (the study involved Candida). Although the immune cells are more efficient in ingesting candida, they have a reduced capacity to kill them – this facilitates the survival and replication of candida. Although we must note that these were studies carried out in cells, it is quite possible that our bodies have a reduced capacity to fight fungal infections if we have HSV1 infection.
Another proposed mechanism for dual infection by HSV and candida is that injury is caused to the epithelium by HSV first that leads to the disruption of mucosal barrier which then allows candida invasion.
Candida and herpes infections and how to differentiate between these
Herpes can be mistaken many a times as yeast infection and vice versa. Conditions that cause irritation of mucous membranes of the genital tissues can often cause similar symptoms like itching and burning. However, there are some symptoms that differentiate one from the other. The table below gives you a clear overview of the two infections and the symptoms they may cause.
|Symptoms in women||Candida||Herpes||Symptoms in men||Candida||Herpes|
|Itching and burning of vagina and labia||Yes||Yes||Itching and rash on penis||Yes||Yes|
|Painful intercourse||Yes||Yes||Painful intercourse||Yes||Yes|
|Bright red rash on inner and outer part of vulva sometime spreading to groin and thigh||Yes||No||Difficulty pulling back foreskin (Phimosis)||Yes||No|
|Inflammation of glans penis and prepuce (Balanitis)||Yes||Yes (rare)|
|White patches on skin around the head of penis||Yes||No|
|Blisters that burst and leave red open sores around genitals, anus, thighs and buttocks||No||Yes||Blisters that burst and leave red open sores around genitals, anus, thighs and buttocks||No||Yes|
|Blisters on lips and around mouth, sometimes on face or on tongue||No||Yes||Blisters on lips and around mouth, sometimes on face or on tongue||No||Yes|
|Blisters and ulcers on the cervix||No||Yes|
|Vaginal discharge||Thick, white, curd-like discharge||Clear, white or off-white discharge|
|Thick discharge under the foreskin with an unpleasant smell||Yes||No|
|Pain when passing urine||Yes||Yes||Pain when passing urine||Yes||Yes|
|Feeling unwell, aches, pains and flu-like symptoms||No||Yes||Feeling unwell, aches, pains and flu-like symptoms||No||Yes|
|Eye infection (complication)||No||Yes||Eye infection||No||Yes|
What solutions are out there?
What you are looking for are strategies for boosting your immune system. Boosting your immune system will not only help you with your current infections, but will also protect you against other. Here are a few tips to a healthy immune system:
- Healthy lifestyle: Your body including your immune system will function better with a healthy lifestyle. Avoid smoking, eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, drink in moderation, get enough sleep – do not stay up late, do not stress over things that you have no control over – stress hormones reduce our immunity, help others when you can – helping others makes us feel good about ourselves which in turn reduces stress, give yourself time, avoid overwork.
- Healthy diet: A literature review published in 2014 by Ian A Myles from the National Institute of Health, USA found enough evidence in humans that the dietary choices in the modern society seems to have harmful impact on our immune system. Although the western diet protects us from deficiency of major nutrients, over-abundance of some substances increases inflammation and mutes our immune system. Dr. Myles says in his article “Although promise remains, it also appears unlikely that synthetic supplements or probiotics will be able to fully counterbalance the damage of our dietary choices, let alone undo them, if they are not accompanied by lifestyle modifications”. He also points to the evidence that when we make poor dietary choices it affects our DNA scaffolding by modifying it and also the microbes in our gut. These harmful changes we then pass on to our offspring during their most critical development period.
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Some of the general tips to follow for a healthy diet:
- Avoid processed food as much as possible. Eating organic, home-cooked food will allow you to avoid the harmful substances. You can also control your salt and sugar and which oil you use this way.
- Including a dose of omega-3 in your diet will help you reduce inflammation. An article published online by Harvard Medical School helps you know the inflammation causing and inflammation fighting foods.
- Have a healthy balanced diet with enough protein, vegetables and fruits, carbohydrates. Aim to vary your diet – a varied diet is known to improve your micronutrient (vitamins and minerals) intake and also help your normal gut flora. Both have impact on immunity. Try as much as you can to get your vitamins and minerals through your diet instead of supplements. Occasional supplementation can be beneficial as well – however, be aware of toxic effects of taking too much vitamins (for example, vitamin A) and minerals as supplements.
- Vitamin D is also effective in providing us immunity against infections. The best way to get your daily vitamin D dose is through sitting in the sun – as oral vitamin D is metabolized differently. However, you should keep in mind that sitting in sun with sunblock does not allow your skin to make vitamin D. Consult your nutritionist for your skin type and how long you need to sit in the sun to get your daily dose – the lighter your skin, the faster you make vitamin D. As with everything, do not overdo this as excess UV from sunrays can be dangerous.