The Facts About Genital Herpes
The Basics of Genital HerpesGenital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by the herpes simplex viruses type 1 (HSV-1) or type 2 (HSV-2). Genital herpes affects both men and women. Herpes is an STD that comes and goes, meaning there are periods when the virus is not actively causing symptoms. During the time between outbreaks, you can still spead herpes to your sexual partners.In most cases, symptoms may not appear. In others, they may be mistaken for another kind of skin condition. Here are some common genital herpes symptoms you should be aware of:
- Small, red bumps that appear on or near the genitals, anus, mouth, or thighs
- Sores and blisters
- Pain or burning during urination in both men and women
- Pain or itching in the genital or anal area
TransmissionGenital herpes is spread by direct skin-to-skin contact. This can happen when the herpes virus comes into contact with the vagina, penis, anus, or mouth. For example, if you have a cold sore on your mouth and have oral sex, you can give your partner genital herpes.Herpes is most contagious during outbreaks, so you should abstain from sex when symptoms are present. Keep in mind that the virus can also be transmitted when symptoms are not present. Some people contract herpes from partners whose symptoms are mild or completely absent, so the person does not know that they are infected. Others become infected from people who do not tell them of their condition. Pregnant women can transfer genital herpes to their baby, with serious infant health consequences. Herpes also puts the mother at risk for miscarriage and premature birth. Contact your doctor right away if you have been exposed to, have symptoms of, or have a diagnosis of genital herpes.
Treatment and Prevention
TreatmentGenital herpes is not curable, but there are medications that will help reduce symptoms and the number of outbreaks. Antiviral medications are prescribed by your doctor and are most effective when started at the first sign of symptoms. When taken as suppressive therapy, antiviral medications can reduce the number of outbreaks and decrease the chance that you will spread the virus to your partner. Antiviral medications include:
PreventionThe best prevention for STD transmission is to avoid sexual contact. There are other steps you can take to reduce the chances of spreading herpes:
- Have sex in a monogamous relationship.
- Always use condoms. Condoms do not provide 100% protection since they may not cover all lesions.
- Avoid sexual contact during an outbreak.
- Take antiviral medication as prescribed by your doctor.
American Sexual Health Association
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 02/2015
- Update Date: 02/18/2015