What Is Genital Herpes?

Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease or STD that is caused by the herpes simplex viruses type 1 (HSV-1) and type 2 (HSV-2). More commonly genital herpes is caused by HSV-2. The signs that you have genital herpes are minimal but when they do occur, they typically appear as one or more blisters on or around the genitals or rectum. Sores can also show up on a woman's cervix, which is the opening to the uterus or in the urinary passage in men. The blisters break, leaving sores that may take up to four weeks to heal the first time they occur.

If another outbreak occurs it can appear weeks or months after the first, but it is usually always less severe and shorter than the first outbreak. Although the outbreak may seem to be gone, the virus will still be in the body indefinitely. The number of outbreaks that occur will tend to decrease over a few years. Some people may have more severe symptoms, such as many painful sores, while others will have more mild symptoms.

An initial outbreak of genital herpes will usually bring about symptoms within two weeks of having sexual contact with an infected person and can last anywhere from two to three weeks. The early symptoms can include: an itching or burning feeling in the genital or anal area, flu-like symptoms including fever, swollen glands, pain in the legs, buttocks, or genital area, vaginal discharge, or a feeling of pressure in the area below the stomach.

Genital herpes can be passed by coming into contact with the sores; occasionally they can also be passed in-between outbreaks but is very rare. Generally, a person can only get herpes during sexual contact with someone who has an outbreak of herpes. But again transmission can occur from an infected partner who does not have a visible sore. The first outbreak will typically occur within two weeks after the virus is transmitted, and the sores typically heal within two to four weeks. Most people diagnosed with genital herpes can expect to have several outbreaks within a year.

Overtime the outbreaks will decrease in frequency. There is no treatment that can heal or cure herpes. To prevent the transmission of genital herpes abstain from sexual contact. Using latex condoms can reduce the risk if you cannot abstain from sex but only when the infected area or site of potential exposure is protected. Since a condom may not cover all infected areas, even correct and consistent use of latex condoms cannot guarantee full protection from genital herpes. Wash your hand frequently to prevent the spread of herpes elsewhere such as the eyes or face.

Genital herpes can cause potentially fatal infections in babies; because they're immune systems can not yet tolerate a virus like this. Genital herpes can also be fatal to people with HIV, undergoing chemotherapy, radiation, or people who have a weakened immune system. It is extremely important that women avoid contracting herpes as much as possible during pregnancy because a first episode during pregnancy can cause a greater risk of transmission to the baby. If a woman has active genital herpes at deliver, a cesarean delivery is usually performed.

Gratefully, infection of a baby from a woman with herpes infection is rare. About 45 million Americans over the age of 12 have genital herpes. It's estimated that up to one million people are infected each year. Genital herpes is more commonly found in women than in men.

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