Genital Herpes: The Truth Revealed

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There are many misconceptions about the genital herpes virus; hopefully we can uncover the truth about genital herpes, or at least a couple of truths. To begin with, there are two strains of herpes: HSV-1 and HSV-2. HSV-1 is much more common and outbreaks are often referred to as cold sores or fever blisters. Perhaps due to the commonality or maybe because of the nickname, cold sores are much less taboo in today’s society.

HSV-2, or genital herpes, has the stigma surrounding it, but for many a cold sore is quite similar in regards to the number of outbreaks and sometimes even symptoms. Those who do suffer recurrent genital herpes outbreaks can expect to have an outbreak within the first two weeks of contracting the virus and four to five times a year. Most people have very mild symptoms and many rarely if ever have symptoms, and as a result, most people don’t know they’ve contracted HSV-2 until they have an STD test.

Is there a cure for genital herpes?

Unfortunately, genital herpes remains an incurable disease; once the genital herpes virus enters the body it remains there for life. The good news is there are steps you can take to manage the virus and there is absolutely no reason you can not live a happy life sexually and otherwise. Most people have very mild symptoms: many never have outbreaks or have very mild symptoms that can go unnoticed. Those that do suffer from outbreaks can expect to have a few outbreaks a year. Some people do suffer regular outbreaks; in which case daily use of acyclovir (Zovirax®), valacyclovir (Valtrex®), and famciclovir (Famvir®) is an option. The severity of genital herpes outbreaks can be reduced by taking anti-viral medications, especially if taken within the first few days.

What are the symptoms of genital herpes?

While some people have an outbreak within the first two weeks of contracting the virus, most experience very mild symptoms. Many never experience symptoms, or have 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. Since many of us are rarely tested for STDs, many go some time without knowing they have contracted the genital herpes virus thus increasing the chances of the risk to spread the infection.

How can I prevent transmission?

Unfortunately, if you’re engaging in sexual activity there is no 100% effective way to prevent transmission. Genital herpes can be transmitted without signs of an outbreak or visible sores present. There are ways to limit the risk of transmission: Namely, avoid sexual contact during an outbreak and immediately before and after an outbreak occurs and always use a condom. Be sure to alert your partner that you have genital herpes so you can take the necessary steps to prevent transmission.

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Can HSV-1 cause HSV-2?

Occasionally, oral to genital transmission can occur (and vice versa). While rare, there are cases of people contracting HSV-1 in their genital region. A genital herpes test can be taken from a swab of an open sore or via a blood test, however a blood test will not show which part of your body is infected (as HSV-1 can infect both the lips or genitals in some cases). Most people will know which they suffer from, but if you’re not sure consult your doctor.

Can transmission of genital herpes occur during childbirth?

It is possible for genital herpes to be passed during childbirth. A doctor may recommend that the individual start taking herpes antiviral medications when they are about 36 weeks pregnant to try to prevent an outbreak from occurring around the time of delivery. If the individual is having an outbreak when they go into labor, the doctor will probably suggest a Caesarean section to reduce the risk of passing the herpes virus to the baby. The chance of a pregnant woman passing herpes to her baby is highest if the first infection occurs near the time of delivery. The virus can be transmitted to the fetus through the placenta during pregnancy or during vaginal childbirth. Be sure to consult your physician that you have the genital herpes virus and definitely alert your doctor if an outbreak occurs during pregnancy.

How does genital herpes transmission occur?

Genital herpes is transmitted during skin to skin contact. HSV-2 is extremely contagious while legions are present, but most people are asymptomatic or have very mild symptoms. Many people do not they have contracted herpes until they are tested for STDs; the virus can be transmitted without visible sores or signs of an outbreak thus increasing the likelihood of further infection. The only way to ensure the prevention of infection is to abstain from sexual activity with infected partners.

So what’s the truth about genital herpes?

Truth be told, the negative stigma surrounding genital herpes is often placed there unnecessarily; most people suffer such mild symptoms that they do not even know they have herpes. There are measures you can take to reduce the likelihood and/or treat outbreaks when they do occur, and there is no reason not to live a healthy and happy life sexually and in general.

So what’s the truth about genital herpes? The CDC estimates that one in six people ages 14-49 have HSV-2, and most people have such mild symptoms that they don’t even know they have the genital herpes virus. The truth is, if you’re sexually active with multiple partners, especially if you’re having unprotected sex, it’s time to get tested for STDs.