Herpes May Be More Common Than You Think
The World Health Organization estimates that globally, 3.7 billion people younger than 50 have oral herpes and 417 million people aged 15-49 have genital herpes.
Dr. Maya Benitez says there has always been a stigma surrounding sexually transmitted diseases, especially herpes.
Stigma aside, it’s stressful to be diagnosed with something with no cure and no direct definitive treatment. And anxiety and stress can trigger outbreaks, says Dr. Benitez.
“It is important for people to learn about the disease and understand it, so that if diagnosed, people will know how to live with it,” she says.
“The likelihood of contracting herpes from toilet seats, bedding, or swimming pools, or from sharing objects such as silverware, soap, or towels is low, but it is possible”
How Can I Avoid Getting Genital Herpes
No vaccine can protect you from HSV infection, but you can do some things to prevent getting infected:
Limit the number of sexual partners you have in your lifetime.
Make sure that you and your sexual partner use condoms every time you have sex.
Consider sexual abstinence .
Don’t have any kind of sex with someone who has herpes sores, itching or scabs, and remember that genital herpes can be spread even when there is no sign of a sore.
Always wash your hands after touching a cold sore.
Why You Should Go To A Sexual Health Clinic
You can see a GP, but they’ll probably refer you to a sexual health clinic if they think you might have genital herpes.
Sexual health clinics treat problems with the genitals and urine system.
Many sexual health clinics offer a walk-in service, where you do not need an appointment.
They’ll often get test results quicker than GP practices and you do not have to pay a prescription fee for treatment.
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How Can You Prevent Cold Sores
There are some things you can do to keep from getting the herpes simplex virus.
- Avoid coming into contact with infected body fluids, such as kissing an infected person.
- Avoid sharing eating utensils, drinking cups, or other items that a person with a cold sore may have used.
After you have been infected with the virus, there is no sure way to prevent more cold sores. But there are some things you can do to reduce your number of outbreaks and prevent spreading the virus.
- Avoid the things that trigger your cold sores, such as stress and colds or the flu.
- Always use lip balm and sunscreen on your face. Too much sunlight can cause cold sores to flare.
- Avoid sharing towels, razors, silverware, toothbrushes, or other objects that a person with a cold sore may have used.
- When you have a cold sore, make sure to wash your hands often, and try not to touch your sore. This can help keep you from spreading the virus to your eyes or genital area or to other people.
- Talk to your doctor if you get cold sores often. You may be able to take prescription pills to prevent cold sore outbreaks.
Genital Herpes By Race/ethnicity
As with most infectious diseases, genital herpes is more prevalent among some racial/ethnic groups than others. This is especially true of Black people in the United States who are nearly 4 times as likely to have HSV-2 as White people.
The causes for this disparity are many, including poverty and limited access to health care and diagnosis. Institutional racism and healthcare discrimination can often discourage people from seeking the care they need, as well. Moreover, living in a community where STI rates are already high increases the likelihood of infection.
Even more concerning is the fact that genital herpes increases the risk of HIV, in part because open sores provide HIV easier access into the body and the inflammatory response attracts the very immune cells that HIV targets for infection.
As a result of these intersecting risk factors, a 2013 study in the journal PLoS suggested that genital herpes in Black people increases their vulnerability to HIV three times more than in White people.
The herpes virus is spread by skin-to-skin contact with a person who has the herpes virus:
- Most often, from herpes sores or blisters
- Less often, from normal looking skin where the virusfirst entered the body
- The herpes virus enters the body through the:
- Lining of the mouth
- Regular skin that has small cracks or cuts
People who dont know they have herpes can still spread the virus to others.
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What Are The Symptoms Of Herpes Ii
Typically, the first signs of herpes II is a cluster of blister-like lesions in the genital area which spread and merge, break and crust over within four to 15 days. The fluid from these itching, painful sores is highly infectious. Other frequent symptoms are painful urination, urethral or vaginal discharge and swollen lymph nodes. The first exposure or primary episode consists of headache, fever, chills and muscular weakness. Recurrent episodes are less severe and are limited to the affected area.
Myth #: A Blood Test Is The Best Way To Know If You Have Herpes
Blood tests are not always accurate and testing for herpes can be tricky. It can take two weeks to six months after being exposed to herpes before it is detected in the blood. To make matters more complicated, if you are low risk for herpes and asymptomatic, it increases your risk of a false positive result. Because of this, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends against routine testing for herpes unless you or your partner have symptoms. The most accurate test is when you are able to take a swab sample from a new herpes lesion, but often times the diagnosis is made by a clinician based on your history and report of symptoms.
Because the blood test can be expensive and inaccurate, it is not typically included in a sexually transmitted disease evaluation unless you ask your provider for it specifically.
In short, if you dont have symptoms, you dont necessarily need a blood test. If you do experience an outbreak, a skin swab not a blood test is your best bet for confirmation.
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Episodic Therapy For Recurrences
For a recurrent episode, treatment takes 1 to 5 days, depending on the type of medication and dosage. You should begin the medication as soon as you notice any signs or symptoms of herpes, preferably during the prodrome stage that precedes the outbreak of lesions.
In order for episodic therapy to be effective, it must be taken no later than 1 day after a lesion appears. If taken during prodrome, episodic therapy may help prevent an outbreak from occurring or reduce its severity. If taken at the first sign of a lesion, it can help speed healing.
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Can Genital Herpes Be Treated
Your physician can prescribe different medications to help reduce your symptoms and speed up the healing of an outbreak. These medicines work best when you start them soon after an outbreak occurs.
To reduce pain during an outbreak:
- Sit in warm water in a portable bath or bathtub for about 20 minutes. Avoid bubble baths.
- Keep your genital area clean and dry, and avoid tight clothes.
- Take over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Avoid aspirin.
Let your physician know if you are worried about your genital herpes. He or she can recommend a support group to help you cope with the virus.
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When Is Herpes Most Contagious
Lets start by talking about when herpes is contagious. It might sound obvious, but the first fact to know is this: Herpes is most contagious during an outbreak. That goes for genital herpes and cold sores from oral herpes.
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For genital herpes, you should stop having sex at the first sign of any impending outbreak. According to the World Health Organization, an outbreak may be preceded by mild tingling or shooting pain in the hips, legs, and buttocks .
If your doctor has prescribed you medication, this is the best time to take it to stop the outbreak in its tracks. The CDCs 2015 sexually transmitted disease guidelines state that while Valtrex may be used to treat HSV-2, Acyclovir or Famciclovir can also be used .
You should generally wait until after a herpes outbreak heals and resolves to resume having sex. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, sexual contact should be avoided until the sores dry and the scabs fall off, which takes approximately 10-14 days .
What Is Herpes Gladiatorum
Herpes gladiatorum is a skin infection caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 , the same virus that causes cold sores on the lips. HSV-1 infections are very common. In the United States, 30% to 90% of people are exposed to herpes by adulthood, although many people never develop symptoms.
While herpes gladiatorum can be treated, once infected with the virus, a person is infected for life. People with herpes gladiatorum can have periods where the virus is inactive and cannot be spread to others. However, the virus can reactivate at any time and be transmitted to others, even if there are no symptoms . This is why prevention is so important.
|Herpes simplex virus type 1 on lip|
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Antiviral Creams And Tablets
Antiviral creams such as aciclovir or penciclovir may speed up the healing time of a recurrent cold sore infection if used correctly.
Cold sore creams are widely available over the counter from pharmacies without a prescription.
Theyre only effective if you apply them as soon as the first signs of a cold sore appear, when the herpes simplex virus is spreading and replicating. Using an antiviral cream after this initial period is unlikely to have much effect.
If you have frequently recurring bouts of cold sores, use antiviral medication as soon as you feel the tingling sensation that indicates a cold sore is about to develop. Youll need to apply the cream up to five times a day for four to five days.
Antiviral creams can only help to heal a current outbreak of cold sores. They dont get rid of the herpes simplex virus or prevent future outbreaks of cold sores occurring.
Antiviral tablets are generally more effective than creams at treating cold sores, but are usually only prescribed for more severe cases.
Is Genital Herpes Contagious
Yes. When blisters or crusts are present, the virus can be passed by direct contact to others. But the virus can be just as contagious even when you cannot see any sores. Using condoms helps to prevent the spread of infectionbut condoms cannot protect you completely. Because HSV also causes cold sores on the mouth, a person with cold sores can spread HSV through mouth contact with the genital area of another person. The virus can also be carried on hands from the mouth to another area. You can even spread the virus to yourself by touching cold sores on your mouth and then touching other areas of your body.
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How Is Genital Herpes Treated
Herpes has no cure. But antiviral medicines can prevent or shorten outbreaks during the time you take the medicine. Also, daily suppressive therapy for herpes can lower your chance of spreading the infection to your partner.
Your doctor will either give you antiviral medicine to take right after getting outbreak symptoms or to take regularly to try to stop outbreaks from happening. Talk to your doctor about treatment options.
During outbreaks, you can take the following steps to speed healing and prevent spreading herpes to other parts of your body or to other people:
- Keep sores clean and dry.
- Try not to touch the sores.
- Wash your hands after any contact with the sores.
- Avoid all sexual contact from the time you first notice symptoms until the sores have healed.
Whats The Difference Between Genital Herpes And Oral Herpes
Because there are 2 different kinds of herpes simplex viruses that can live on many body parts, lots of people are confused about what to call these infections. But its actually pretty simple:
When you get either HSV-1 or HSV-2 on or around your genitals , its called genital herpes.
When you get either HSV-1 or HSV-2 in or around your lips, mouth, and throat, its called oral herpes. Oral herpes sores are sometimes called cold sores or fever blisters.
HSV-1 usually causes oral herpes, and HSV-2 usually causes genital herpes each strain prefers to live on its favorite area. But its totally possible for both types of herpes simplex to infect either area. For example, you can get HSV-1 on your genitals if someone with a cold sore on their lips gives you oral sex. And you can get HSV-2 in your mouth if you give oral sex to someone with HSV-2 on their genitals.
Episode Frequency And Duration
Next, we investigated whether the decline in shedding rates over time was attributable to reduced frequency or shorter duration of episodes. The mean frequency of episodes over a 1-year period for the entire cohort was 14.4 episodes of total HSV-2 shedding, 11.6 episodes of subclinical shedding, and 8.7 episodes with genital lesions. Episode frequency did not change significantly over time since first herpes episode.
The duration of clinical recurrences decreased after the first year following the first genital HSV-2 episode. The mean recurrence length was 10.4 days among participants < 1 year from their first herpes episode, 7.2 days among those 19 years , and 6.5 days among those 10 years from first herpes episode . These decreases remained significant among those 19 years , and those 10 years from first herpes episode after adjusting for race. In contrast to clinical recurrences, the duration of total and subclinical episodes did not change significantly by year since initial HSV-2 episode. The mean duration of any viral shedding episode was 4.6 days, and mean subclinical episode length was 2.6 days for the entire cohort.
Genital Herpes: Frequently Asked Questions
What is genital herpes?
How common is genital herpes?
World Health Organization estimates that in 2012, 19.2 million new cases of HSV-2 infection happened among adults and youth aged 1549 years worldwide, with around 417 million cases already existing. The highest number of cases are found in WHO African Region and the WHO Region of the Americas. The reason the number of existing cases is so high is because there is no cure for herpes. In the region of the Americas there were around 2.2 million new cases of HSV-2 infections among females and 1.3 million among men in 2012, adding to the already around 45.2 million existing cases for females and 25.1 million existing cases for males.
How is genital herpes spread?
How is genital herpes prevented?
What are the symptoms of genital herpes?
What are the problems of genital herpes?
How does having genital herpes affect a pregnant woman and her baby?
How is genital herpes diagnosed?
What is the treatment for genital herpes?
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What Is The Difference Between Genital Herpes And Genital Warts
Both genital herpes and genital warts are STIs, are spread through skin-to-skin contact, and are caused by a virus. But the viruses that cause genital herpes and genital warts are different:
- Herpes simplex virus is the virus that causes genital herpes.
- Human papillomavirus is the virus that causes genital warts.
There is no cure for either genital herpes or genital warts. But, different medicines can help manage the symptoms of herpes and treat the complications of HPV infections that can cause genital warts.
Herpes Testing Inhibited By Stigma
Herpes testing isnt a standard part of sexual health care. The stigma associated with herpes infection is severe enough that many doctors are reluctant to test people who do not have symptoms. They may also be concerned about false positive or false negative testing.
However, if you are at risk for herpes infection and want to know your current status, you can always ask for a test. Type-specific herpes blood tests can be performed at most major medical laboratories. Theyre not 100% accurate, but they can still provide useful information in certain situations.
Read Also: How Do I Live With Herpes
Sexuality In Midlife And Beyond
The physical transformations the body undergoes with age have a major influence on sexuality. This Special Health Report, Sexuality in Midlife and Beyond, will take you through the stages of sexual response and explain how aging affects each. Youll also learn how chronic illnesses, common medications, and emotional issues can influence your sexual capabilities. Finally, youll find a detailed discussion of various medical treatments, counseling, and self-help techniques to address the most common types of sexual problems.
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