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What is Genital Herpes?
Genital Herpes is a common Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) caused by a viral infection from herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and type 2 (HSV-2).
- HSV-1 = Most common form of the virus typically transmitted through kissing. May show oral or genital symptoms depending on the area contacted by the virus.
- HSV-2 = Less common form of the virus commonly resulting in only Genital Region Symptoms (Oral infections are very rare, but have been recorded)
HSV-1 causes blisters around the lips and mouth, and both forms of the virus cause blisters around the genitals and rectum. The blisters eventually break, leaving open sores that can take several weeks to heal. These “outbreaks” may reoccur 4-5 times each year, ranging in severity depending on the strength of an individual's immune system. As the immune system builds antibodies to the virus, outbreaks tend to decrease in severity with each passing year. Antiviral drugs and other types of treatment can be used to aid in the relief of outbreak symptoms.
A genital herpes infection makes an individual 3 to 5 times more likely to acquire HIV if exposed.2 Read more about this phenomenon.
How is Genital Herpes Transmitted or Spread?
Genital Herpes is spread through sexual contact with a person that has an infection. It does not matter whether the infected person has an outbreak, or is receiving treatment: The virus can be spread even if it not causing symptoms at the time. Transmission of HSV-1, which can occur on both the mouth and the genitals, can be spread from an infected person's mouth to another persons genitals during oral sex. Both forms of the virus can be spread through genital-genital contact during intercourse. A HSV-2 transmission can exist within someone who has no symptoms, and therefore they may not know they are infected.
It is very possible for a mother to pass a genital herpes infection to her baby during delivery, as a herpes infection can be fatal in newborn infants. A cesarean delivery is usually performed on women who have active outbreaks, so fortunately this type of transmission is very rare.
Genital Herpes Symptoms
Herpes Simplex Virus 1 (HSV-1) causes blisters and sores on the lips and around the mouth. Transmission of this form of the virus from the mouth to the genitals can occur and cause genital herpes, but the outbreaks tend to happen less frequently as this form of the virus is less severe. Genital herpes is most often caused through sexual contact with someone who has HSV-2. Transmission is possible whether or not sores are visible at the time of contact. People who have HSV-2 are not always aware that they have an infection unless they have had outbreaks. Symptoms of the virus vary, but the a typical outbreak tends to produce the following:
- Blisters around the genitals or rectum
- Fever (usually only occurs during an initial outbreak)
It is possible that a genital herpes outbreak may not happen until years after the initial contact with the virus. The first outbreak usually will produce very pronounced symptoms, and about 5-6 outbreaks are expected to occur within the following year. Outbreaks can occur less often and with less blisters as time goes by depending on an individual's immune response to the virus.
How to Prevent Genital Herpes?
Abstinence is the best way to prevent the transmission of any sexually transmitted disease. f you are sexually active, condoms are a helpful preventative measure if used correctly each time, How To Use A Condom. The risk of infection for any STD, including genital herpes, is significantly lowered if you both you and your partner have been tested, and are only having sex with each other. People who engage in risky sexual behavior, or have sex with people they don't know very well, are at a much greater risk for contracting sexually transmitted diseases. People who regularly use drugs and alcohol are at a higher risk for contracting sexually transmitted diseases, including genital herpes, because they are more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior.
Please read more about STD transmission and prevention here.
How to Treat or Cure Herpes?
No The Herpes Simplex Virus can not be cured, but sometimes the symptoms can be eased with antiviral drugs. These can shorten the length and severity of outbreaks. You can also talk to your doctor about daily suppressive therapy that can help reduce the risk of transmission to a partner.
What should I expect from my doctor?
If you suspect that you have come into contact with genital herpes, it is a good idea to talk about all necessary STD testing, because there are a number of STDs like herpes that can produce no symptoms. If you have open sores, your doctor may sample them to confirm that they are being caused by HSV. A blood test may be performed to determine whether or not you have contracted HSV, but the results are not always clear.
2Center for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/std/Herpes/STDFact-Herpes.htm
CDC-INFO Contact Center
National Herpes Hotline
National Herpes Resource Center
CDC National Prevention Information Network (NPIN)
P.O. Box 6003
Rockville, MD 20849-6003
American Social Health Association (ASHA)
P. O. Box 13827
Research Triangle Park, NC 27709-3827