The NP Answers Your FAQ: What Do I Need to Know About Genital Herpes?
If you’ve been diagnosed with genital herpes, you’re not alone: 45 million people in the United States, or one out of 5 people, are infected with this virus.
WHAT IS GENITAL HERPES?
Genital herpes is a recurrent sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 or type 2, or
HSV-1 and HSV-2. In the past, HSV-2 caused almost all genital herpes infections, however in the past decade, practitioners are seeing more HSV-1 genital infections. This is probably due to transmission via oral sex practices.
Typically, the initial outbreak of genital herpes is the worst. It causes burning pain as well as clusters of sores on the penis or vulva. However, many first-time infections may be mild skin irritations that often are attributed to chafing, shaving, yeast infections, urinary tract infections, insect bites, tight pants or allergies. In other people, the initial outbreak may go completely unnoticed but may recur months or years later.
HOW IS HERPES TRANSMITTED?
Genital herpes is a lifelong infection; there is no cure. One of the reasons genital herpes is common is because 90% of people infected do not know they are infected. People who have this infection may be contagious to others when symptoms are present. However, “asymptomatic viral shedding” means that a person without active herpes sores may still be capable of transmitting this infection to their partners.
HOW IS HERPES DIAGNOSED?
The lesions associated with the herpes virus may emerge within 1 to 21 days after exposure. Signs and symptoms associated with herpes can vary greatly, however students often schedule an appointment with the practitioner when they notice a painful sore in the genital area that may turn into a cluster of small, painful blisters and be associated with difficult, painful urination, groin tenderness and fever. The first step in making a diagnosis is taking a medical-sexual history to determine your risk factors for STIs. The second step is to perform an examination. A herpes culture may be taken by swabbing the affected skin for the purpose of sending the specimen to the lab for identification. Blood testing for HSV 1 and 2 antibody levels is another method that may be considered for diagnosing herpes in the patient or partner.
HOW IS GENTIAL HERPES TREATED?
There are safe and effective medicines to control your herpes and reduce transmission to sex partners. They are referred to as “episodic therapy” and “suppressive therapy”. Episodic therapy involves taking a prescription medication at the first sign of a herpes outbreak to reduce severity and duration. “Suppressive therapy” involves taking a prescription medicine every day to help suppress outbreaks of genital herpes before they occur.
WHAT TRIGGERS CAN RESULT IN A HERPES OUTBREAK?
Common “triggers” thought to lead to outbreaks include skin friction, sex, stress, sunlight/sunburn, wind, fever, surgery, menstruation and infections. Sexual contact should be avoided when any symptoms of an outbreak are present. Condoms are a good form of protection against HIV and other STI’s however are not 100% protective against transmission of herpes.
IS MY SEX LIFE OVER?
It is normal to be upset whenever an STI like herpes is diagnosed. It is also important to know that GH is common and you can still have normal, satisfying relationships, both emotional and physical, with genital herpes. Some students benefit by a few informational support sessions with the practitioner, other students may want to take advantage of our counseling service to put the issue in perspective. There are community resources available: www.sandiegocityHELP.org.
If you think you may have contracted herpes or another STI, please call (760) 750-4915 to schedule an appointment.