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Genital Herpes: What You Need to Know

virus herpes transmission

What is it?

Genital herpes is a viral infection. It causes ulcers (sores) in the genital area. It is related to the virus that causes cold sores (fever blisters) around the mouth. An infected person stays infected for life. He or she may have repeated attacks of genital ulcers.

How do you get genital herpes?

Herpes is spread by direct skin-to-skin contact-that is, directly from the site of infection to the site of contact. People with sores may spread the virus to other parts of their own body with their hands, so, it is important to wash and dry hands thoroughly after touching herpes sores.

What are the typical symptoms?

Herpes can cause blister-like sores in the genital area. With the first infection there may also be fever, joint pain, flu-like signs, pain when passing urine, itching, tingling, and enlarged tender lymph nodes (glands that ward off and block the spread of infection or disease). The sores are sometimes very painful but generally heal in 1 to 2 weeks without scarring.

When does herpes recur?

The sores may heal but the virus is still there and the sores may come back, or recur. When they do recur, they are usually less painful and heal faster. Some people have frequent recurrences, while other people have them rarely. The average is about four recurrences per year, and for many individuals the number of recurrences decreases as time goes on.

When is genital herpes most likely to be spread?

It is easily spread when a sore is present, but often spreads at other times, too. Herpes is most likely to be spread from the time the first symptoms are noticed until the area is completely healed and the skin looks normal again. Sexual contact-oral, vaginal, or anal-poses a very clear risk during this time.

Many genital herpes infections are spread from persons who have no symptoms at a given time but are “shedding” the virus.


What precautions reduce the risk of spreading or getting the virus?

Certain basic principles are important in reducing the risk of getting any sexually transmitted disease, including HIV (the AIDS virus):

  • You can greatly reduce your risk of getting a sexually transmitted disease by not having sex with anyone or by having sex only with a non-infected partner who has sex only with you.
  • If you are not sure that you and your partner are free of infection, use protection during sex. Condoms used properly from start to finish for each sexual encounter, can be useful protection. Spermicidal foams and jellies might offer additional protection.

What should I do if I think I have genital herpes?

See a doctor while symptoms are still present. The doctor will look at the area, take a sample from the sore(s), and test to see if the herpes virus is present. The test will not work if the sores have healed and might not work if they are more than a few days old.

What about treatment?

Although there is no cure for herpes, the drug acyclovir has been effective in many cases in reducing the frequency and duration of genital herpes outbreaks. This is a prescription drug which must be ordered by a doctor.

During an outbreak, keep the infected area as clean and dry as possible. This will help your natural healing processes. Also, soaking in a shallow tub of salty water may ease the discomfort. Finally, a healthy immune system may be important in controlling the virus. Don’t ignore the need for proper nutrition, exercise, and rest.

Be sure to tell people you have had sex with during the past 3 months to 2 years. They should be examined and counseled. For more information call your local health unit, sexually transmitted diseases clinic, or the Teen Sex Info. Line at 1-800-463-6739, this info. line is open 7 days a week from 4pm to 10pm.

For a more in-depth Faze article on herpes, read this.

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