Twenty five years ago, when someone had a herpes infection, they thought it was a curse for life. Today, with other sexually transmitted diseases (STD) that are life-threatening, herpes infections are much less frightening and terrifying.
Herpes is one of the most common STDs and affects nearly 50 million Americans or one in five adolescents and adults have had herpes infections. This article will review the cause, the symptoms, the diagnosis, the treatment and the prevention of this disease.
Herpes is caused by two different but closely related viruses. Herpes type 1 (HSV-1) was usually associated with oral lesions and HSV-2 primarily affected the genital organs. Today, we know that both viruses can be located in either the mouth or genital locations.
The most common symptoms are a recurring rash that develops into cluster of blisters or sores. The sores may appear anywhere on the body, but in men, the most common areas are the penis, lips, mouth and anus. In women they can occur around the labia of the vagina. Other symptoms include pain, itching, burning with urination, fever, headaches, and a general run-down feeling or malaise.
Herpes is spread by touching, kissing, and sexual contact during vaginal, anal and oral intercourse. Herpes is most contagious from the time the sores are visible until the sores are completely healed. The first outbreak of sores usually begins from 2-20 days the virus enters the body. The sores usually heal in about three weeks. However, even thought the sores heal, the virus remains in the body. Later it can “flare up” and result in a recurrence. Recurrent outbreaks occur on average 4-6 times a year. Once a person has herpes, the virus remains in the body in a dormant or inactive state forever. Most men and women who have recurrent infections are unable to pinpoint what triggers a herpes outbreak. Some will identify lack of sleep, poor diet, fatigue and stress as causes of recurrences.
While there is no cure for genital herpes, there are treatment options available. 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. These antiviral drugs such as Zovirax, Valtrex and Famvir can speed up the healing of the sores, decreases the duration of symptoms and reduce the frequency of recurrences.
Prevention of herpes
The surest way to avoid transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, including genital herpes, is to abstain from sexual contact, or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and is known to be uninfected.
Genital ulcer diseases can occur in both male and female genital areas that are covered or protected by a latex condom, as well as in areas that are not covered. Correct and consistent use of latex condoms can reduce the risk of genital herpes only when the infected area or site of potential exposure is protected. Since a condom may not cover all infected areas, even correct and consistent use of latex condoms cannot guarantee protection from genital herpes.
Persons with herpes should abstain from sexual activity with uninfected partners when lesions or other symptoms of herpes 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. Sex partners can seek testing to determine if they are infected with HSV. A positive HSV-2 blood test most likely indicates a genital herpes infection.
Bottom line: Men and women with genital herpes can and do have happy, productive, and sexually fulfilling lives and can have healthy children, too. For more information the National Herpes Resource Center at firstname.lastname@example.org