Genital Herpes is a very common sexually transmitted disease; however, due to its nature, it can go undetected. In fact, most people with genital Herpes do not even realize they have it. Unfortunately, this is why it is difficult to contain. Your sexual partner can pass the virus along to you even when he/she is not having symptoms. Currently, there is no cure for genital Herpes but there are medications you can take to help alleviate symptoms during an outbreak.
Genital Herpes is caused by two types of viruses: Herpes simplex virus type 1 and Herpes simplex virus type 2. As stated earlier, it is very common and in the United States, it is estimated that about one out of every six people ages 14 to 49 have the virus.
You can get Herpes by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who is infected. The fluids found in the Herpes lesion carry the virus and contact with these fluids can cause infection. However, you can also get the virus from an infected sex partner who does not have a visible sore or who may not know they are infected with Herpes. This can occur due to the virus shedding which is when it is released through your skin and spreads to your sex partner.
How can you protect yourself from getting Herpes? The only absolute way to protect yourself from any STDs is to not have vaginal, anal or oral sex. However, if you are sexually active there are a few ways to protect yourself. Being in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and is negative for all STDs is the best way to protect yourself, second to abstinence (absence of sex). Another way to protect yourself is to use latex condoms, the correct way, every time you have sex. It is important to note that while the areas that are most affected by Herpes are the both male and female genital areas, outbreaks can also occur in other areas that are not covered by a condom. It is because of this fact that condoms may not fully protect you from getting Herpes.
As stated earlier, some people who are infected with Herpes are not aware they are infected. This is due to the fact that most people infected have either no symptoms or very mild symptoms that are often mistaken for another skin condition, such as a pimple or ingrown hair. Genital Herpes sores usually appear as one or more blisters on or around the genitals, rectum or mouth. The blisters break and leave painful sores that may take several weeks to heal. When this occurs, the person is classified as “having an outbreak”. Often, the first time an outbreak occurs, the person will also have flu-like symptoms that accompany the blisters. Repeat outbreaks are common but are usually milder and less severe than the first. The number of outbreaks also tends to decrease over time, although the virus will be present in the bloodstream for the rest of your life. You should seek medical evaluation as soon as you notice the blister forming or have an unusual sore or discharge.
Your medical provider can often diagnose Herpes just by evaluating your symptoms. They can also take a sample from the sore and test it. Although there is no cure for Herpes, your doctor can prescribe you medication to prevent or shorten the duration of outbreaks.
If you feel like you or your partner has genital Herpes, the best thing to do is talk about it. It would be best to include your medical provider so that you can be sure you are getting the most accurate information. Although it is not curable, it can be managed with medications as discussed earlier. If you have Herpes, you should inform your sex partners and let them know the risks. Wearing condoms will decrease the risk but will not rid the risk completely. Since genital Herpes causes sores or breaks in the skin, it does increase the risk of acquiring HIV if your partner is infected.
For more information on genital Herpes and other STDs, you can call the Sampson County Health Department at 910-592-1131, extension: 4972. To make an appointment for a STD check, please call 910-592-1131, extension 4001, 4960 or 4220.