Herpes comes in two basic types: oral and genital. Here’s what you need to know to help avoid getting infected with this incurable virus.
WHAT IS GENITAL HERPES?
Genital herpes is a common sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by the virus herpes simplex 1 or 2. When active, the herpes virus causes sores and blisters. If you’ve ever experienced a “cold sore” on your lips or around your mouth, you know what a herpes lesion looks like. In genital herpes, you experience these same types of lesions in your genital area: around the vagina or penis, inside the vagina, on the cervix, around the anus or on any skin in the area of the sex organs.
Genital herpes cannot be cured. The virus may go dormant for long periods of time, during which you experience no outbreaks of lesions. However, it’s important to note you can still spread the virus even when you have no active lesions.
WHAT CAUSES GENITAL HERPES?
You get genital herpes from having sex with a person who is infected with the herpes simplex virus. You do not need to have intercourse (vaginal or anal) with the infected individual. Receiving oral sex from someone who has an active cold sore or mouth lesion can give you genital herpes. You can get oral herpes by performing oral sex on someone with genital herpes lesions. If a person touches a herpes lesion with a finger and then touches your genital area, you can get herpes from the contact.
SYMPTOMS OF GENITAL HERPES
Many people who are infected with the herpes virus do not have symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they may include:
- Sores that look like small, fluid-filled blisters on the skin of the genital area or inside the vagina
- Mild fever
- Swollen lymph nodes (“swollen glands”)
- Body aches
- Flu-like symptoms
Many of these symptoms occur only during the initial infection. You may experience symptoms between two to 10 days after you’ve been exposed to the virus. After the initial exposure, you may rarely experience symptoms, or you may have frequent outbreaks. Each person’s experience with genital herpes is different. According to research Herpes virus remains active even in absence of clinical symptoms.
TREATMENT OF GENITAL HERPES
There is no cure for genital herpes, but you can take medication to reduce the number of outbreaks you experience and to reduce any pain from an outbreak.
HOW TO PREVENT GENITAL HERPES
The only foolproof way to avoid exposure to genital herpes is to not have sex. If you are sexually active, you can reduce your chances of getting genital herpes by following these precautions:
- Use a condom and/or dental dam every time you have sex. Because herpes lesions can occur on skin areas not covered by a condom, you may still be exposed to the virus.
- Have sex only with a partner who has tested negative for herpes.
- Never engage in sexual activity (even using a condom) with someone who has blisters or lesions around the mouth, inside the mouth or in the genital area.
If you’ve had more than one sex partner in your lifetime, you should be tested for STDs in order to avoid passing along herpes or another STD to your partner. Everyone should know his or her HIV and STD status, including whether or not you’re positive for herpes simplex.
If you carry the herpes simplex virus, you can still lead an active sex life by seeking a partner who also carries the herpes virus. This way, you do not risk infecting someone else.