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Genital Herpes: Information and Treatment Options

Genital herpes is a highly contagious sexually transmitted disease caused by the herpes simplex-2 virus (HSV-2) and the herpes simplex-1 virus (HSV-1). Both viruses can cause genital or oral infections. HSV can be spread through kissing and skin-to-skin contact, as well as vaginal, oral, and anal sex. The virus affects both men and women. Symptoms of genital herpes include pain, itching, and sores in the genital area, though some people do not show any symptoms. An infected person can transmit the virus even if they don’t have any visible signs of infection.

There is no cure for sexual diseases like genital herpes. After the initial infection, the virus will stay dormant inside the body for a period of time. However, it can reactivate several times a year, causing painful outbreaks. Fortunately, there are medications to treat the symptoms of genital herpes that can help heal the sores, prevent future outbreaks, and minimize the risk of spreading the virus.


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Denavir is a topical antiviral cream used to treat recurrent cold sores on the lips and face. Applied every two hours, it has been shown to heal cold sores in an average of 4.5 days.
Famvir treats and suppresses symptoms of genital herpes. This medication also is effective in treating cold sores (recurrent herpes labialis) and shingles (acute herpes zoster).
Valtrex is an oral medication for genital herpes and herpes zoster infections (shingles). Valtrex disrupts the process by which the herpes virus reproduces itself and spreads.
Acyclovir is the generic, oral form of expensive Zovirax, used to treat and suppress genital herpes and shingles. It can speed up healing, decrease pain/itching/formation of new sores.


Genital Herpes Causes

There are two types of herpes simplex viral infections:

  • HSV-1. This virus usually causes sores around the face and mouth, but it can be spread to the genital area through oral sex.
  • HSV-2. This virus most commonly causes genital herpes, spreading through sexual and skin-to-skin contact. It’s very common and highly contagious, even if the infected person does not have a visible sore.

You do not need to exchange body fluids to contract the herpes simplex virus. The virus dies quickly outside the body, so it not likely that you will contract the virus from toilet seats, towels, or other items used by in infected person.


Sexual Disease Medications for Genital Herpes

Antiviral medications can help people go longer between outbreaks. They can also reduce the severity of symptoms and help sores heal faster. The major drugs used to treat herpes simplex viral infections are:

  • Zovirax
  • Famvir
  • Valtrex

These drugs are taken orally for seven to ten days. Your doctor might choose to extend the therapy if the sores have not healed within ten days. If the infection is severe, the infection might be treated intravenously with the drug acyclovir.

There are two ways to manage the infection long term:

  • Intermittent treatment. With this method, your doctor will prescribe a drug to take when you have a flare-up. You begin taking pills orally when you first see symptoms of an outbreak. The drugs make the sores go away more quickly and reduce the severity of symptoms.
  • Suppressive treatment. If you have frequent outbreaks, your doctor might recommend that you take an antiviral drug daily. If symptoms recur several times per per year, this type of therapy can help you have fewer outbreaks. Suppressive therapy also reduces the risk of infecting your partner since the drugs reduce the number of viral cells on the surface of your skin.


Symptoms of Sexual Disease: Genital Herpes

A majority of people infected with the herpes simplex virus never know that they are infected because they do not show any symptoms, or the symptoms are so mild they don’t even notice them. When symptoms do appear, they can include:

  • Itching, burning, and soreness in the genital area
  • Skin sores and soft wet ulcers when the blisters open
  • Local pain if urine touches the ulcers
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the groin area
  • Headache, fever, muscle aches, and flu-like symptoms
  • Difficulty urinating

Symptoms can develop for the first time within a few days or a few weeks after infection. Occasionally, the infected person will not have symptoms for years. People who have symptoms generally have at least one recurrence after the initial infection. Outbreaks can be triggered by physical or emotional stress.


Living with Sexual Diseases: Genital Herpes Outbreaks

During an outbreak, avoid having vaginal, anal and oral sex. You can have sex between outbreaks, but be sure to explain the risks to your partner. He or she can contract the infection even when you are not having an outbreak. Use a condom to reduce the risk of infecting your partner.

Several factors can potentially trigger outbreaks, but the triggers are different for everyone. Some common triggers include:

  • Friction from sexual intercourse
  • Hormonal changes
  • A weakened immune system
  • Surgery or trauma to the body


Genital Herpes Treatments

Outbreaks of genital herpes can be treated with oral medications including Valtrex, Famvir, and Zovirax. There is another medication called acyclovir, which can be applied to the skin as a cream, but it is generally not as effective as oral medications. The most effective treatment is intravenous acyclovir, which is used to treat severe infections.

People with genital herpes should avoid excessive heat or sunlight, because it can aggravate the symptoms. Also avoid perfumed soaps, feminine deodorants, and douches, which can irritate the sores. During an outbreak, you can take an over-the-counter pain reliever to reduce the pain from symptoms. Light, cool clothing can help soothe irritation and pain.

People with frequent outbreaks should see a doctor at least once a year because your doctor can help you make treatment choices that will suit your unique situation.