Herpes is an infection of the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types of this virus: HSV-1 and HSV-2. In general, HSV-1 is picked up orally, triggered by stress, or caused by cold weather, while HSV-2 is passed during sexual contact. HSV-1 is typically recognized by a cold sore on the lips, while HSV-2 results in sores in the genital area. However, both HSV-1 and HSV-2 can cause genital herpes. Many people infected with herpes are not diagnosed and may not even know they have contracted the virus. Herpes symptoms only occur occasionally, and heal within about four weeks. Even when the symptoms clear up, a person with herpes is not cured. In fact, there is not yet a cure for genital herpes, only treatments. Since genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease (STD), people infected have to remain vigilant about protecting all future sexual partners from the virus.
Frequently Asked Questions about Herpes
What are the symptoms of genital herpes?
Symptoms for genital herpes will vary based on each individual person. However common signs include:
- Pain, itching, and uncomfortable sensations in the genital area
- Patches of redness in the genital area
- Blisters, sores, or ulcers in the genital area (these are often referred to as lesions)
- Discomfort or pain during urination
While some of these symptoms might indicate a different disease or illness, anyone suffering from these ailments should talk to a doctor about getting tested for genital herpes.
How does a person contract genital herpes?
Genital herpes is typically contracted through sexual activity including vaginal, anal, and oral sex. Even when a person with the genital herpes virus is not experiencing symptoms, he or she can still pass along the virus to a partner. Herpes can be passed simply through touch and sexual play, not just through intercourse. Also, in recent years, developed countries have seen an increase the number of cases where HSV-1 has led to genital herpes.
Is there a cure for herpes?
There is currently not a cure for herpes, only treatments. Once a person is infected, they have the virus for life. Antiviral drugs are made by some major pharmaceutical companies. These treatments help to control breakouts of herpes symptoms.
Can genital herpes be passed from mother to baby during birth?
Women with genital herpes can still give birth to a virus-free child. Women who have been living with herpes for some time typically do not need to worry about conception and infecting their newborn at birth. Passing down herpes is more of a concern for women who contract the disease while they are pregnant, especially if the virus enters their body during their first trimester. In some cases, a cesarean section is recommended for women with herpes. Either way, if a woman or her partner has herpes and they are trying to get pregnant, it is important they consult a medical doctor for advice before starting to try to conceive.
The Numbers on Genital Herpes
- One in 5 Americans have genital herpes.(www.siskiyous.edu/health/std.htm)
- It is estimated that 536 million people (15-49 years old) are infected with HSV-2. (http://www.austincc.edu/microbio/2704y/hsv.htm)
- Studies show that only 80%-90% of people with genital herpes are aware they are infected with the virus. (http://stdtesting.com/how-many-people-have-herpes)
- One in 5 women has HSV-2 genital herpes, while only 1 in 9 men are infected, making the infection more prevalent in women. (http://www.cdc.gov/std/Herpes/STDFact-Herpes.htm)
- 75% of people with genital herpes do not show symptoms. (http://www.siskiyous.edu/health/std.htm#4)
- People with herpes can become infected with HIV more easily. (http://www.cdc.gov/std/Herpes/STDFact-Herpes.htm)
Planned Parenthood – Planned Parenthood is a healthcare provider with locations around the country. They are fully staffed with professionals ready to help people with questions about herpes.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Reliable information on herpes, treatments, and more.
HIVTest.org – This website offers a searchable database of STD testing centers around the country.
AVERT – An international HIV and AIDS charity with resources and information on herpes.
American Social Health Association – Offering practical advice and tools for people infected with herpes, as well as listings for support groups around the country.