GENITAL HERPES

What is it? Genital herpes is an infection caused by the herpes simplex virus or HSV. There are two types of HSV, and both can cause genital herpes. HSV type 1 most commonly infects the lips causing sores known as fever blisters or cold sores, but it also can infect the genital area and produce sores there. HSV type 2 is the usual cause of genital herpes, but it also can infect the mouth during oral sex. A person who has genital herpes infection can easily pass or transmit the virus to an uninfected person during sex.  HSV remains in certain nerve cells of the body for life, and can produce symptoms off and on in some infected people.

What Happens? Unfortunately, most people who have genital herpes don’t know it because they never have any symptoms, or they do not recognize any symptoms they might have. Most often, when a person becomes infected with herpes for the first time, the symptoms will appear within two to ten days. These first episodes of symptoms usually last two to three weeks. Early symptoms of a genital herpes outbreak include:

  • itching or burning feeling in the genital or anal area.
  • pain in the legs, buttocks, or genital area.
  • discharge of fluid from the vagina.
  • feeling of pressure in the abdomen.

Within a few days, sores appear near where the virus has entered the body, such as on the mouth, penis, or vagina. They also can occur inside the vagina and on the cervix in women, or in the urinary passage of women and men. Small red bumps appear first, develop into blisters, and then become painful open sores. Over several days, the sores become crusty and then heal without leaving a scar. Some other symptoms that may go with the first episode of genital herpes are fever, headache, muscle aches, painful or difficult urination, vaginal discharge, and swollen glands in the groin area. You should see your doctor at the first sign of any of these symptoms.

Why does it happen? Most people get genital herpes by having sex with someone who is having a herpes “outbreak.” This outbreak means that HSV is active. People often get genital herpes by having sexual contact with others who don’t know they are infected or who are having outbreaks of herpes without any sores. A person with genital herpes also can infect a sexual partner during oral sex. The virus is spread only rarely, if at all, by touching objects such as a toilet seat or hot tub.

Can I stop it? Although there is no cure for genital herpes, your doctor might prescribe one of three medicines to treat it:

  • Acyclovir (Zovirax®) treats the first and/or later episodes of genital herpes.
  • Famciclovir (Famvir®) treats later episodes of genital herpes and helps prevent future outbreaks.
  • Valacyclovir (Valtrex®) treats later episodes of genital herpes.

During an active herpes episode, whether the first episode or a repeat one, you should follow a few simple steps to speed healing and avoid spreading the infection to other places on the body or to other people:

  • Keep the infected area clean and dry to prevent other infections from developing.
  • Try to avoid touching the sores.
  • Wash your hands after contact with the sores.
  • Avoid sexual contact from the time you first feel any symptoms until the sores are completely healed, that is, the scab has fallen off and new skin has formed where the sore was.

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