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The five important things that a person should know about herpes are as follows:
- It is estimated that one out of six people have genital herpes. About 90% of them don’t have any symptoms.
- Herpes is a very manageable skin condition and does not cause any damage to the internal organs.
- Herpes (oral and genital) cannot be spread through inanimate objects such as spoons, glasses, razors, towels, bed sheets, etc. Herpes can only be passed through direct skin-to-skin contact with the infected area such as kissing, oral sex, genital-to-genital rubbing, vaginal sex, and anal sex.
- Herpes (oral and genital) can be spread even when there are no symptoms or sores. This is called asymptomatic shedding. Suppressive antiviral therapy significantly reduces asymptomatic shedding (and outbreaks). Valacyclovir taken daily can reduce risk of transmission to a partner by as much as 50%.
- Using a condom does not ensure a 100% protection from herpes infection to the partner.
What is herpes?
There are two types of HSV:
- HSV-1 causes oral herpes, which usually affects the mouth and surrounding skin.
- HSV-2 causes genital herpes, which is usually sexually transmitted. Genital herpes is a common sexually transmitted disease (STD) that any sexually active person can get. Most people with the virus don’t have symptoms. Even without signs of the disease, herpes can spread to sexual partners.
Is there a link between genital herpes and oral herpes?
Oral herpes caused by herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV-1) can be spread from the mouth to genitals through oral sex. Therefore, some cases of genital herpes are caused by HSV-1.
How do I know if I have genital herpes?
Most people who have genital herpes have no symptoms or have very mild symptoms. Patients may not notice mild symptoms or may mistake them for another skin condition, such as a pimple or ingrown hair. Because of this, most people who have herpes do not know it. Patients must visit a doctor if they notice any of these symptoms:
- Unusual sore
- Smelly genital discharge
- Burning when urinating
- Abnormal bleeding between periods
Herpes sores usually appear as one or more blisters on or around the genitals, rectum, or mouth. The blisters break and leave painful sores that may take a week or more to heal. These symptoms are sometimes called “having an outbreak.” The first time someone has an outbreak, they may also have flu-like symptoms such as fever, body aches, or swollen glands.
People who experience an initial outbreak of herpes can have repeated outbreaks, especially if they are infected with herpes simplex virus-2 (HSV-2). Repeat outbreaks are usually shorter and less severe than the first outbreak. Although the infection stays in the body for the rest of your life, the number of outbreaks may decrease over time.
Does a negative culture test mean that a patient does not have herpes?
One of the biggest problems in diagnosing genital herpes is test sensitivity. There are numerous reasons why cultures can be negative; one being that the disease may be caused by something other than herpes. Cultures also can test negative if the samples are not taken in an appropriate manner if there is a long transport time between the clinic and laboratory or if the cultures were taken late in the course of the lesions or sores. Lesions or sores that occur early during a herpes outbreak are much more likely to have positive cultures than cultures taken after the lesions crust are over.
Can herpes be cured?
There is no cure for herpes. However, there are medicines that can prevent or shorten outbreaks. Anti-herpes medicines such as Valacyclovir can be taken daily, which can reduce the spread of infection. Suppressive therapy can provide coverage for individuals who have frequent outbreaks. During therapy, an individual with frequent outbreaks takes a small dose of anti-herpes medication every day. It has been proven that suppressive therapy can reduce the number of outbreaks by over 90%. Patients have taken suppressive therapy for long periods of time, but in most cases, patients can be weaned from it.
Is herpes infection related to HIV?
Herpes and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) are caused by different viruses; however, patients infected with these viruses are more likely to transmit either disease to their sexual partners. Patients with herpes are more susceptible to acquiring HIV. Individuals newly diagnosed with herpes should be tested for HIV infection and other sexually transmitted infections.
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Genital Herpes - CDC Fact Sheet: (https://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/stdfact-herpes.htm)
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