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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There are two types of herpes simplex viral infections:
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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.