Women and Genital Herpes

Undoubtedly, a positive diagnosis for genital herpes is a hard pill to swallow.

It’s an often painful virus that pops up infrequently for the luckiest of those afflicted, and chronically for others. Adding to the physical discomfort is the stark reality that herpes is a scarlet letter, stigmatizing those living with the virus and often shaming them into secrecy.

The truth of the matter is that both forms of herpes, HSV-1 and HSV-2, are much more common than many people realize, with women being more susceptible to infection than men.

It’s estimated that the virus is present in 50-80% of the population with many of those asymptomatic and undiagnosed carriers. With such a broad group of individuals potentially affected by genital herpes it’s extremely important to separate fact from fiction and spread knowledge rather than fear.

To date, there is no cure for HSV-1, or for HSV-2, but there are several effective measures that can by used to keep outbreaks at bay and protect against transmission to partners.

Despite what you may have heard, oral herpes, or cold sores, can and often do transmit to the genital area during oral sex, so if you notice an ulcer in your mouth or in your partner’s mouth, it’s best to abstain until the lesion is gone.

Condoms and dental dams can be effective barriers, but experts warn that “shedding” of the herpes virus can occur in any part of the groin area (picture the entire area covered by boxer shorts), and if touched can pass the virus onto another person despite “safe sex” precautions.

As previously mentioned, women have an increased risk in contracting genital herpes over their male counterparts and face certain health challenges if exposed to the virus while pregnant. Women are also more likely to suffer from flu-like warning signs prior to an outbreak.

There’s statistical evidence that antiviral medicines can help alleviate the pain and tenderness of lesions as well as shorten the duration of an outbreak.

There are currently three FDA-approved drugs on the market for genital herpes:

Studies have shown that all three are equally effective, but Valtrex® and Famvir® are absorbed better by the stomach and therefore can be taken less often than Zovirax®. These drugs are safe to use in pregnancy when an initial outbreak is present, or during the last 4 weeks before delivery for women suffering from frequent reoccurring outbreaks.

The topical form of acyclovir (Zovirax ointment) offers little benefit in the treatment of genital herpes and is not recommended. Vaccines for HSV are being investigated in ongoing trials.

These concerns can seem daunting to the recently diagnosed person, but the truth of the matter is that genital herpes is not a truly devastating diagnosis, nor is it a reason to assume sexual pleasure is a thing of the past. Women who harbor the virus ought to be forthright with potential partners and communicate their health status in a mature manner.

Naturally, after the disclosure of one’s positive status, some partners may walk away, or cast judgement. However, most will see one’s positive status for what it truly is:

A non-threatening, entirely manageable part of your life, effortlessly overshadowed by your beauty, honesty, and strength of character. So if, after disclosing your positive someone you care for, you’re faced with hostility and/or condemnation, ask yourself:

Who wants those types of people around anyhow?

Selected References
Center for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/stdfact-herpes.htm. Accessed June 15, 2010. Jacoy, Sandy. MSN Health and Fitness. Antiviral medicines for genital herpes. URL:http://health.msn.com/health-topics/articlepage.aspx?cp-documentid=100070493. Accessed June 15, 2010. (Archived by WebCite® at http://www.webcitation.org/5qW8lS1ke)
The University of Sydney. New discovery in Herpes Simplex Virus infection route. http://www.usyd.edu.au/news/84.html?newsstoryid=5085. Accessed June 15, 2010.