Genital Herpes (HSV-2)
More than 45 million Americans are infected with the herpes simplex virus that causes genital herpes
. There are two types of herpes virus: Herpes Simplex Virus 1 (HSV-1) and Herpes Simplex Virus 2 (HSV-2). Generally, HSV-1 is associated with oral herpes, marked by the presence of cold sores around the mouth, while HSV-2 is thought to be the cause of genital herpes. However, HSV-1 has also been shown to cause genital herpes. The herpes virus lives in certain nerve cells in your body where it remains for life and only a herpes test can tell you for sure whether or not you have contracted this STD.
Type of Infection: Viral
Mode of Transmission: Through direct skin-to-skin contact with the infected area during vaginal, anal or oral sex.
Symptoms: Although first episode symptoms of genital herpes tend to be worse than subsequent herpes outbreaks, often a person's herpes symptoms are so mild they go unnoticed. If you have been exposed to the virus, genital herpes symptoms can take between two and ten days to appear. Symptoms of herpes can include an itching or burning sensation and pain around the infected area. Painful lesions in the vagina, on the penis, around the genital area or anus, and on the thighs or buttocks often occur as well. Female herpes symptoms may also include vaginal discharge. Women frequently develop vaginal herpes, with herpes bumps and sores occurring in the vagina. The virus infects people in stages and can resurface.
Treatment: Currently, there is no herpes cures. However, you can receive herpes treatment to help relieve your discomfort during an outbreak as well as reduce the frequency of outbreaks. There are three different types of herpes medication available, one of which may help lower the risk of herpes transmission.
Complications: Because there is no cure for herpes, an infected person will have to deal with outbreaks and the possibility of transmitting the virus to a loved one for the rest of their life. Fortunately, herpes does not cause any long-term health complications. However, if you have an outbreak of herpes sores, your risk for HIV infection is increased, as it is easier for the virus to enter your body through the lesions. People with a compromised immune system may experience more frequent and severe outbreaks.
Consequences in Infants: Having your first outbreak of genital herpes while you are pregnant increases your risk of going into premature labor. Additionally, you may pass the virus onto your child, which can lead to nerve damage or even death. If you have an outbreak of genital herpes when you go into labor, it may be necessary to deliver the child via c-section.
Risk Factors: Since the 1970s, cases of herpes have grown significantly, most notably among teens. While anyone who is sexually active is at risk, women, especially those in their early twenties, have a slightly higher risk of being infected than men.
Prevention: Abstaining from sex or being in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship with someone who has tested free of HSV are the most effective methods to prevent being infected. Always avoid any type of sexual contact with someone who is having an outbreak of herpes, both genital and oral. Using a condom when someone is not having an outbreak can help reduce your risk of infection. Condoms will not offer any type of protection against direct contact with a herpes sore.
Research: Current research is looking for ways to improve herpes medications as well as develop a herpes vaccine. Scientists are also trying to develop topical microbicides to help prevent the spread of genital herpes in women.
Get more information about herpes in our STD forum.