Genital Herpes

What is Genital Herpes?
Genital Herpes is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by the herpes simplex viruses type 1 (HSV-1) or type 2 (HSV-2). Most genital herpes is caused by HSV-2. In the U.S., one out of six people 14 to 49 years of age have genital HSV-2 infection. It is more common in women than in men. Transmission from an infected male to his female partner is more likely than from an infected female to her male partner.

How do people get it?
A person can get HSV-2 infection during sexual contact with someone who has HSV-2 even if they do not have symptoms.

HSV-1 of the genitals is caused by oral-genital or genital-genital contact with a person who has the infection. HSV-1 genital outbreaks are not as common as HSV-2 outbreaks.

What are the symptoms?
Most infected people have no or only minimal symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they usually appear as one or more blisters on or around the genitals or rectum. The blisters break and leave sores that may take 2-4 weeks to heal the first time they occur. Usually, another outbreak will occur weeks or months after the first, but it almost always is less severe and shorter than the first outbreak. Although the infection can stay in the body indefinitely, the number of outbreaks tends to decrease over a period of years.

What can happen if left untreated?

Genital herpes can cause recurrent painful genital sores. Herpes infection can be severe in people with suppressed immune systems. Regardless of severity of symptoms, genital herpes frequently causes psychological distress in people who know they are infected.

In addition, genital herpes can lead to potentially fatal infections in babies. It is important that women avoid contracting herpes during pregnancy because a newly acquired infection during late pregnancy poses a greater risk of transmission to the baby.

How is it diagnosed?

Herpes can be diagnosed by a visual examination and/or by taking a sample from the sore(s) and testing it in a laboratory. Herpes can also be diagnosed through a blood test.

What is the treatment?
There is no treatment to cure herpes, but antiviral medications can shorten and prevent outbreaks during the period of time the person takes the medication. In addition, daily suppressive therapy for symptomatic herpes can reduce transmission to partners.

How can it be prevented?

The safest and surest way to avoid any sexually transmitted disease is to abstain from sex, or to be in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who is not infected.

Proper and consistent use of a latex condom may help reduce risk.

Persons with herpes should abstain from sexual activity with uninfected partners when blisters or sores are present. It is important to know that even if a person does not have any symptoms he or she can still infect sex partners. Sex partners of infected persons should be advised that they may become infected and condoms should be used to reduce the risk of transmission.

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