Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease that affects around 20% of Americans, most are unaware they have the virus. Since it is a virus, it does not go away. Healthcare providers can only treat the symptoms and reduce the risk of transmission. Although there are several types of herpes, usually one type of herpes affects the mouth, and the other type affects the genitals. Both types of herpes cause sore, red blisters in the affected areas, which usually occur off and on throughout the affected person’s life. Since genital herpes is considered a sexually transmitted disease, it is important to know the facts about it in order to protect yourself and your partner.
WHAT IS HERPES?
HSV-1 normally affects the mouth, causing several red peeling blisters or scabs around the lips called “cold sores”. HSV-2 usually affects the genitals, causing painful, red blisters to break out on the genitals. Both strains are common among humans and can be spread through sexual contact.
People infected with herpes will often go through cycles of reoccurrence. Since the herpes virus is permanent, people infected will usually experience many different “flare-ups” of the blisters after lengths of blister-free periods. Oftentimes, these blister periods are extremely painful and uncomfortable. Although no symptoms of herpes show between flare-ups, it can still be spread during these periods.
Complications from herpes can occur, especially in an expectant mother who can pass the disease to her baby during delivery. Genital herpes passed to babies can have potentially fatal consequences and are always at least severe.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF GENITAL HERPES?
Symptoms of herpes may take two weeks to appear after being initially infected. During the first two weeks after exposure, you may not experience any symptoms. However, when the first outbreak of blisters occurs, it will usually be extremely pronounced and painful. Sometimes herpes outbreaks are so severe, they merit hospital visits for treatment. Sometimes people will also get a fever and flu-like symptoms during the first outbreak as well as blisters. Usually, the sores heal without scarring within two to four weeks, subsequent outbreaks may occur depending on your body’s immune system.
ARE THERE TESTS FOR GENITAL HERPES?
If you suspect that you may have genital herpes, there are different tests that your healthcare provider can perform to confirm the diagnosis. If you already have sores, your provider may take a culture from one of the sores and test it. Additionally, a blood test may be drawn to check for antibodies that fight off HSV-1 and HSV-2.
ARE THERE TREATMENTS OR CURES FOR GENITAL HERPES?
Currently, there is no cure for herpes. Someone who is infected will have it and be contagious for the rest of his or her life. Fortunately, there are treatments to manage the symptoms of herpes, control breakouts, and prevent transmission to non-affected partners. Infected people may take antiviral medications called daily suppressive therapy to manage and prevent breakouts as well as reduce the likelihood of spreading it to a sexual partner. Also, there are topical medications that can be applied to the sores to reduce pain and stop infection.
HOW CAN I PREVENT GENITAL HERPES IF I DO NOT YET HAVE IT?
The most effective way of preventing genital herpes is to limit your sexual partners. Even if you are on birth control, it is crucial to use protection methods like condoms. This reduces the skin-on-skin contact and fluid passage that can transmit the disease.
WHAT EMOTIONAL CONSEQUENCES COULD I HAVE IF I GET HERPES?
Although herpes creates many painful physical ailments for an infected person, it may also be just as emotionally painful to find out that you are infected or to live with it. Since herpes lasts forever and there is no cure. Infected people often have trouble coping with sadness or emotional pain that accompanies the burden of the illness, as well as shame or guilt. Herpes also plays an important role in relationships. It is often difficult for men and women affected with herpes to find serious lifetime partners who are willing to live with their partner’s disease and risk their own personal health. Having a partner who has herpes can oftentimes be very frustrating or upsetting, but it is very important for people to be upfront and honest about their herpes infection. Although this may drive away potential partners, it also allows you to see just who can see past the infection and love the person anyway, and risk their own personal health just to be romantically and sexually close to them. If you have herpes and are experiencing many emotions, it is important to talk to a trusted friend or a healthcare provider about these feelings.
Genital herpes is a lifelong illness that can affect almost anyone and has the potential to be life-changing. In order to prevent yourself from contracting this illness, limit your sexual partners and make sure to use condoms.