Genital Herpes

Genital herpes, also called herpes simplex type 2 (HSV-2), is an incurable viral infection that is characterized by painful genital sores. While some people have an outbreak within the first two weeks of contracting the virus, most never have outbreaks or experience symptoms that are very mild and can go unnoticed. People diagnosed with a first episode of genital herpes can expect to have four to five outbreaks (called symptomatic recurrences) within a year. Since many never have outbreaks or mistake symptoms as a bug bite or rash, most people don’t know they have genital herpes.


Transmission

HSV-2 is a sexually transmitted disease (STD), meaning an individual must engage in sexual activity (oral sex or intercourse) to transmit, or become infected with, this virus. HSV-2 infection is more common in women (about 1 in 4) than in men (about 1 in 5). More about Transmission and Prevention

 

Symptoms

After an initial, “primary” infection, herpes viruses establish a period called “latency”, meaning the time between initially contracting the viral infection and when symptoms become apparent, during which the virus is present in the cell bodies of nerves that attach to the area of the original viral outbreak (e.g. genitals, mouth, and lips). View Pictures of Genital Herpes

 

Testing

Testing for Herpes may be accomplished by way of a viral culture, which uses specimens taken from the blister, fluid in the blister, or sometimes spinal fluid.

The test samples are typically sent to a laboratory where they are analyzed. It takes between one and 14 days to detect the virus made from the specimen. This test is useful, but it is sometimes difficult to detect the virus in the sample. More about Genital Herpes Testing


Treatments

Although there is no cure for genital herpes, medications are available to minimize the number of outbreaks, reduce the likelihood of viral shedding, and decrease the likelihood of transmission. Approved antiviral drugs include acyclovir (Zovirax®), valacyclovir (Valtrex®), and famciclovir (Famvir®). Antiviral medication is commonly prescribed for patients having a first episode of genital herpes, but they can be used for recurrent episodes as well. More Treatments for Genital Herpes

Natural therapies, like Aloe and Zinc, have also shown promising results. More about Alternative Treatments for Genital Herpes


Living with Genital Herpes

While genital herpes can cause embarrassment, inconvenience, and frustration, measures may be taken to work towards living a healthy, outbreak-free lifestyle. HSV-2 positive individuals can prevent recurring outbreaks by avoiding some of the known causes, and ease severity of symptoms in the event an outbreak occurs. To prevent outbreaks, avoiding certain activities/stresses is helpful. The herpes virus becomes reactivated secondary to certain stimuli.

Reactionary stimuli

  • fever
  • physical or emotional stress
  • ultraviolet light exposure (sunlight or tanning beds)
  • nerve injury

During an outbreak, symptomatic relief may be obtained by keeping the area clean and dry, or by taking pain relievers (like aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen). Some patients with genital herpes find relief by taking a bath where a person simply sits in a tub with warm water up to the hips. More about Preventing Outbreaks

If an you, or someone you know, is pregnant, and HSV-II positive, it is important to tell a doctor that HSV is present, as serious complications may occur without taking proper precautionary measures. More about Genital Herpes and Pregnancy

 

Selected References

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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). www.cdc.gov. Accessed April 28, 2009.
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American Academy of Family Physicians. http://search.aafp.org. Accessed April 4, 2009.
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Center for Disease Control and Prevention. www.cdc.gov. Accessed April 4, 2009.
Femiano F, Gombos F, Scully C. Recurrent herpes labialis: a pilot study of the efficacy of zinc therapy. J Oral Pathol Med. 2005;34(7):423-5.
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. www3.niaid.nih.gov. Accessed April 4, 2009.
Natural Standard: The Authority on Integrative Medicine. www.naturalstandard.com. Copyright © 2009. Accessed April 4, 2009.
Singh BB, Udani J, Vinjamury SP, et al. Safety and effectiveness of an L-lysine, zinc, and herbal-based product on the treatment of facial and circumoral herpes. Altern Med Rev. 2005;10(2):123-7.
Sun Y, Yang J. Experimental study of the effect of Astragalus membranaceus against herpes simplex virus type 1. Di Yi Jun Yi Da Xue Xue Bao. 2004;24(1):57-8.
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World Health Organization. www.who.int. Accessed April 4, 2009.
VZV Research Foundation. www.vzvfoundation.org. Accessed April 4, 2009.