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What You Need to Know to Protect Yourself

What is genital herpes?

Genital Herpes is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by the herpes simplex viruses type 1 (HSV-1) or type 2 (HSV-2).

How common is genital herpes?

Genital herpes infection is very common in the US. The CDC estimates that every year 776,000 people in the United States get new herpes infections. Nationwide, 15.5 % of persons aged 14 to 49 years are infected. In the United States, an estimated 87.4% of 14–49 year olds infected with genital herpes are unaware they have herpes.

How do people get genital herpes?

Infections are transmitted through contact with lesions, mucosal surfaces, genital secretions, or oral secretions. Herpes can also be shed from skin that looks normal. Generally, a person can only become infected with herpes during sexual contact with someone who has a genital herpes infection. Transmission most commonly occurs from an infected partner who does not have a visible sore and may not know that he or she is infected.

What are the symptoms of genital herpes?

Most individuals infected with herpes do not have symptoms, or have very mild symptoms that go unnoticed or are mistaken for another skin condition. As a result, 87.4% of infected individuals remain unaware of their infection. When symptoms do occur, they typically appear as one or more fluid filled bumps on or around the genitals, rectum or mouth. These bumps break open, drain and leave painful ulcers that may take two to four weeks to heal. Experiencing these symptoms is referred to as having an &ldquol;outbreak,” or episode.

The first outbreak of herpes often lasts longer than future outbreaks. The duration of herpetic lesions (fluid filled bumps), increased viral shedding (making herpes transmission more likely) and symptoms including fever, body aches, swollen lymph nodes, and headache usually occurs when the herpes infection first occurs.

Future outbreaks of genital herpes are common, in particular during the first year of the infection. About half of patients will know when an outbreak is about to occur due to symptoms such as mild tingling or shooting pains in the legs, hips and buttocks that occurs hours to days before an outbreak.

Symptoms of recurrent outbreaks are typically shorter and less severe than the first outbreak of genital herpes. Although the infection can stay in the body indefinitely, the number of outbreaks tends to decrease over time.

What are the complications of genital herpes?

Genital herpes can cause painful genital ulcers in many adults that can be severe and persistent especially in people with a suppressed immune system due to other health conditions.

Some patients who contract genital herpes have concerns about how it will impact their overall health, sex life, and relationships. There can be can be considerable embarrassment, shame, and stigma associated with a herpes diagnosis and this can interfere with intimate relationships. It is important to remember that while herpes is not curable, it is a manageable condition.

What is the link between genital herpes and HIV?

Genital ulcers, lesions or bumps caused by herpes make it easier to transmit and become infected with HIV. This is because genital herpes can cause ulcers or breaks in the skin of the mouth, vagina, and rectum making it easier to contract or transmit the infection.

How does genital herpes affect a pregnant woman and her baby?

Neonatal herpes is one of the most serious complications of genital herpes. Your provider will screen you for herpes as a part of your initial pregnancy lab work. A woman with genital herpes may be offered antiviral medication from 36 weeks gestation through delivery to reduce the risk of an outbreak. If herpes symptoms are present at the time of labor a cesarean delivery will be recommended to prevent HSV transmission to the infant.

How is genital herpes diagnosed?

There are two ways to diagnose herpes. Either by culturing an active lesion or through blood work. If you think you have herpes but no longer have a lesion please be aware that it takes weeks after the initial infection for the herpes antibodies to build up in your blood to detectable levels.

Is there a cure or treatment for herpes?

There is no cure for herpes. Antiviral medications can, however, prevent or shorten outbreaks during the period of time the person takes the medication. In addition, daily suppressive therapy for herpes can reduce the likelihood of transmission to partners.

How can herpes be prevented?

Correct and consistent use of latex condoms can reduce the risk of genital herpes. However, outbreaks can occur in areas that are not covered by a condom. The surest way to avoid transmission of genital herpes, is to abstain from sexual contact, or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and is known to be uninfected.

Persons with herpes should not have sexual activity with partners when sores or other symptoms of herpes are present. It is important to know that even if a person does not have any symptoms, he or she can still infect sex partners.

From Our Patients
“Dr. Cajas has been my Dr. for my past three pregnancies... I absolutely love him and his staff.
I would highly recommend him to anyone.” – Rosy Estrada