Genital Herpes
Genital Herpes

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Newsfeed display by CaRP Genital herpes is a common sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by a virus called herpes simplex virus, type 2. Genital herpes can infect men, women, and children. It can be transmitted through vaginal, anal, and oral sex.

Results of a nationally representative study show that genital herpes infection is common in the United States. Nationwide, at least 45 million people ages 12 and older, or one out of five adolescents and adults, have had genital HSV infection. Between the late 1970s and the early 1990s, the number of Americans with genital herpes infection increased 30 percent.

Most people infected with HSV-2 are not aware of their infection. However, if signs and symptoms occur during the first outbreak, they can be quite pronounced. The first outbreak usually occurs within two weeks after the virus is transmitted, and the sores typically heal within two to four weeks. Other signs and symptoms during the primary episode may include a second crop of sores, and flu-like symptoms, including fever and swollen glands. However, most individuals with HSV-2 infection may never have sores, or they may have very mild signs that they do not even notice or that they mistake for insect bites or another skin condition.

Genital HSV-2 infection is more common in women, approximately one out of four women than in men, almost one out of five. This may be due to male-to-female transmissions being more likely than female-to-male transmission.

Anyone who is sexually active can get genital herpes. Additionally babies can become infected with genital herpes if the mother is infected at the time of delivery.

In addition, genital HSV can cause potentially fatal infections in babies. It is important that women avoid contracting herpes during pregnancy because a first episode during pregnancy causes a greater risk of transmission to the baby. If a woman has active genital herpes at delivery, a cesarean delivery is usually performed. Fortunately, infection of a baby from a woman with herpes infection is rare.

Genital herpes is transmitted through skin contact with an infectious lesions; this includes vaginal, anal, and oral sexual intercourse. Genital herpes is generally transmitted from the genitals of an infected sexual partner. About 70% of genital herpes are transmitted when the infected person has no signs or symptoms of genital herpes. Additionally, babies can become infected during childbirth if their mother is infected.

The first symptom to occur with genital herpes infection is generally a cluster of painful and itchy blisters or open sores on and around the genital area. During this initial outbreak, the blisters may spread, break, leak and crust over. The fluid from these sores contains herpes virus and is very infectious. Other symptoms associated with an outbreak include fever, swollen glands, aches, and pain during urination. This initial outbreak usually heals in 2-3 weeks. Recurring outbreaks are almost always less uncomfortable, shorter, and not as severe as the first outbreak. These recurrences may be triggered by stress, fatigue, and lack of sleep, menstruation, and genital friction.

Genital herpes can cause recurrent painful genital sores in many adults, and herpes infection can be severe in people with suppressed immune systems. Regardless of severity of symptoms, genital herpes frequently causes psychological distress in people who know they are infected.

Nearly 66% of those infected with genital herpes have no symptoms. Of those who develop symptoms, they usually appear 2 to 12 days after exposure.

No, herpes is a chronic infection, which means that the virus lives inside your body even when you have no symptoms. However, medication is available to decrease symptoms associated with genital herpes infection or to prevent recurrences. However, you may still be able to infect others with herpes virus even if you are taking medications for herpes.

Genital herpes is an infection that should be taken seriously. While genital herpes infections are rarely dangerous, many who are infected develop psychological stress as a result of infection. Women who are pregnant and have a first outbreak of genital herpes near the time of delivery may transmit the herpes virus to their baby, which can be dangerous to the child. For recurrent outbreaks, the risk of herpes transmission to the baby is much smaller.

Trained clinicians can diagnosis the initial outbreak of herpes by the appearance of the sores. Blood tests for the virus that usually causes genital herpes (HSV-2) are also available in some clinics. If you think you may have been exposed to herpes, you should visit a doctor to discuss testing and possible herpes therapy.

The signs and symptoms associated with HSV-2 can vary greatly. Health care providers can diagnose genital herpes by visual inspection if the outbreak is typical, and by taking a sample from the sore(s) and testing it in a laboratory. HSV infections can be difficult to diagnose between outbreaks. Blood tests, which detect HSV-1 or HSV-2 infection, may be helpful, although the results are not always clear-cut.

A positive blood test for genital herpes (HSV-2) means that you have been infected with the herpes virus sometime in the past; it cannot tell you when you were infected. Many people are infected with genital herpes and do not develop symptoms, so it is possible for you to be infected and transmit genital herpes without having any symptoms.

If you are infected with genital herpes, you can infect your partners with genital herpes even when you do not have an outbreak. You are most likely to infect your sex partners if you have sexual contact with them when you are having an outbreak - symptoms.

Before having sex with your current or new partner(s), you should discuss with them your herpes diagnosis. They may want to have a blood test for herpes to see if they already are infected.

Abstinence or not engaging in sexual activity is the only sure way to avoid getting sexually transmitted infection. Use of male condoms protects women from getting genital herpes from their male partners. However, it is not 100% effective. Also, taking herpes medication can reduce the chances of infecting a sex partner with herpes virus.

Persons with herpes should abstain from sexual activity with uninfected partners when lesions 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. Sex partners of infected persons should be advised that they might become infected. Sex partners can seek testing to determine if they are infected with HSV. A positive HSV-2 blood test most likely indicates a genital herpes infection.

Talk to your partner before sexual intercourse; suggest a STD test before you begin having sex and discuss ways in which to reduce your risk of infection – SAFE SEX.

There is no treatment that can cure herpes, but antiviral medications can shorten and prevent outbreaks during the period of time the person takes the medication. In addition, daily suppressive therapy for symptomatic herpes can reduce transmission to partners.

Herpes may play a role in the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Herpes can make people more susceptible to HIV infection, and it can make HIV-infected individuals more infectious.


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Submitted: 06/26/06

Description: Results of a nationally representative study show that genital herpes infection is common in the United States. Nationwide, at least 45 million people ages 12 and older, or one out of five adolescents and adults, have had genital HSV infection. Between the late 1970s and the early 1990s, the number of Americans with genital herpes infection increased 30 percent.

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