Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Women are more commonly infected than men. For women who have sores, the first outbreak may last two to four weeks. Another outbreak can occur in weeks or months. One in five American adults has herpes, but only one third of those inflicted are aware that they have the virus. Once a person gets genital herpes, it stays in the body for life. In some people, symptoms come and go. When symptoms appear, it is called a “herpes outbreak.” The highest rates of infection are seen among the poor, those with less education, those using cocaine, and those with many sexual partners.
Herpes is a virus that can be passed through sexual contact. It is mainly caused by the herpes simplex viruss type 1 and type 2. You can get genital herpes by having sex with someone who has open sores and when someone has no sores. However, herpes is most contagious when a person has open sores. Transmission of the herpes simplex virus from an infected mother to her child during pregnancy or birth is rare. In some cases, herpes infection can be life-threatening to the child; in other cases it may result in brain damage or skin lesions.
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. The initial symptom of genital herpes usually is pain or itching, beginning two to 10 days after exposure to an infected sexual partner. After several days, small, red bumps may appear.
The entire genital area may feel very painful, and the individual may have flu-like symptoms including fever and swollen lymph nodes. If a person has an outbreak in the future, the outbreaks will tend to be less severe and shorter in 3 to 4 days.
Your doctor usually can diagnose herpes by taking a tissue scraping or culture of the blisters or early ulcers for examination in the laboratory. Because people with herpes commonly have other sexually transmitted diseases, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea or HIV/AIDS, your doctor will likely examine you for such diseases as well. If you suspect that you previously had a herpes outbreak, a blood test can confirm past exposure to HSV-1 or HSV-2 infection.
There is no cure for genital herpes. Condoms can lower the chances of getting herpes. Along with condoms, Valtrex, a drug used to treat herpes, can help lower the chances of passing the virus during vaginal sex. The medications that reduce the frequency and duration of outbreaks and have few side effects in most people are very rare and take several times.
Diagnosis involves the doctor taking a medical history, performing a physical examination and taking a swab to detect presence of the virus.
Acyclovir does not cure herpes, but it interferes with the virus ability to reproduce itself. Other new drugs famciclovir and valacyclovir now on the market work in a similar manner.