Genital Herpes: What You Need to Know

Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease ( STD) that is caused by the herpes simplex viruses. There are two types of these herpes simplex viruses that cause genital herpes: simply called Type 1 (HSV-1) and Type 2 (HSV-2); however, most genital herpes is caused by Type 2 (HSV-2). According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), over 45 million people ages twelve years and older (one out of five people), have experienced genital herpes infection. The first outbreak of genital herpes will usually occur within two weeks after the herpes virus is transmitted. If someone suspects a genital herpes infection, they should visit a doctor who can take a simple blood test. A positive genital herpes Type 2 (HSV-2) blood test will indicate a genital herpes infection. After a first herpes outbreak, a second outbreak could appear weeks or months later; however, it is almost always shorter and less severe than the first outbreak. Typically, in the year following a first outbreak, the person can then expect to have four to five more outbreaks. Although genital herpes does stay in the body for an indefinite period of time, the number of outbreaks will decrease in frequency. Both types of genital herpes (HSV-1 and HSV-2) are released from the viral sores during an outbreak, but they can also be released between obvious outbreaks, even when the skin does not appear to have an open sore. In general, a person only gets a genital herpes Type 2 (HSV-2) infection from sexual contact with another person who already has a genital herpes Type 2 (HSV-2) infection. However, sexual transmission can also occur from a partner who is infected and either does not have an open sore or does not know that he/she even has genital herpes. Genital herpes Type 1 (HSV-1) can cause genital outbreaks, but usually it causes infections on or around the lips and mouth — what are commonly called “fever blisters.” Genital herpes Type 1 (HSV-1) is usually caused by genital-to-genital or oral-to-genital contact with someone who has a genital herpes Type 1 (HSV-1) infection. There is no safe sex with genital herpes. Genital herpes can occur even with use of a condom during sexual activity, because the condom cannot protect every area of the genitals. Any area not covered is at risk of herpes infection through sexual transmission. People who know they have genital herpes, even between outbreaks, however, should always use a condom when they have sex, to avoid sexual transmission (as much as possible) to an uninfected partner. The only way to avoid getting genital herpes — or any other sexually transmitted disease — is to totally abstain from sexual contact, or at least to be in a long-term relationship with someone who you know does not have genital herpes. There is no cure for genital herpes, but there is treatment for an outbreak that can shorten the length of the outbreak. There is also medication that can reduce the chance of disease transmission to another person. In addition there is antiviral medication to help with frequency of outbreaks.