Herpes: Fast Facts About STDs

Fast Facts About STDs: Genital Herpes

Name of Disease or Infection
Herpes Simplex II, also known as Genital Herpes.

Type of Disease or Infection
Viral infection caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus Type II. (Herpes Simplex I typically infects the region around the mouth and is the cause of cold sores. However, Herpes Simplex I can also cause infection in the genital area, while Herpes Simplex II can cause infection in the oral region.)

How Common Is It?
Over one in five Americans are infected, with an estimated half-million new cases diagnosed each year. Nationwide, at least 45 million people over the age of 12 have Genital Herpes.

How Do I Get It?
The Herpes Simplex II virus requires physical contact, and is frequently transmitted through genital-to-genital contact, although other means of transmission, including hand-to-genital and mouth-to-genital contact, are possible. Genital Herpes is spread when an active herpes lesion or its secretion (fluid) comes into direct contact with a break in the skin or the moist membranes of the anus, cervix, mouth, penis, urethra or vagina.

Symptoms
The first symptoms are generally itching and burning soon followed by blisters. The blisters begin as a group of small, red, painful spots, which become yellow blisters, and eventually burst, leaving painful ulcers, which heal in about ten days to two weeks. Other onset symptoms include flu-like feelings, including fever and swollen glands. After this, the virus becomes latent, but remains in the affected individual's system for life. Symptoms generally appear within two weeks after exposure, but the virus can lay dormant for months or even years, and then activate suddenly. Many individuals also have other symptoms such as fever, neurological pain, loss of appetite and fatigue. Women tend to have more severe symptoms than men, and are much more likely to develop internal sores. Many individuals, especially men, can be infected and infect others without noticing any symptoms. After the initial outbreak, which is usually the most severe, additional outbreaks can vary in frequency and intensity for the rest of a person's life, although they normally decrease in frequency. Some individuals never have a second outbreak.

What Should I Do If I Think I Have It?
See your clinician or physician immediately for a visual inspection of the afflicted area, combined with laboratory analysis of infected tissue. Blood tests may be used, but laboratory analysis is more reliable.

How Do I Get Rid of It?
There is currently no cure for Herpes. However, a number of anti-viral drugs exist, both oral and topical, that can lower the viral activity in the body, thus making outbreaks less frequent and intense, and speed the healing of open sores. The bulk of treatment involves attempting to relieve discomfort and preventing the spread of the virus to other parts of the body or to others. Due to viral shedding, infection can occur even when there is no obvious outbreak, but it is especially important that during an outbreak all contact with the infected area and others and your own mucous membranes be avoided -- wash your hands after any contact.

What Happens If I Don't Treat It?
The most serious danger posed is that to a child born to an infected mother. Infection can be passed either through the placenta or during birth, and can cause fetal malformation, blindness or even death. Because of the serious threat they cause to the health of the infant, if herpes blisters are present a cesarean section is usually performed. In women, if herpes spreads to the cervix, there is an increased risk of cancer later in life. In addition, the open sores created by an outbreak are susceptible to bacterial infections. It is also possible to spread the infection to other parts of the body (such as the eyes) if one is not careful.

Who Should I Tell?
If you have Herpes, you should tell any current, recent or future sexual partners.

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