There are two varieties of the herpes simplex virus: HSV 1 and HSV 2. This article deals with HSV 2, which is the cause for genital herpes, more commonly known as herpes. To read about HSV 1, read the article How to Get Rid of Cold Sores. Herpes is a sexually transmitted disease that enters the body through small cuts in the skin or mucous membranes. Herpes can infect the eye by contact with a contaminated finger. Herpes affects both men and women but not equally. The Center for Disease Control estimates that in 1 in 4 women have the virus where as only 1 in 8 men have herpes. In total 45 million Americans over the age of 12 have HSV 2.
Most people do not realize that they are infected. However, if an outbreak occurs, the symptoms are usually quite pronounced and usually occur two weeks after infection. An infected person experiencing symptoms of herpes can expect to have four or five outbreaks in the first year. Herpes is a life-long illness; there is no cure or vaccine available. Although herpes never goes away, the outbreaks usually decrease with the passage of time. There are also effective antiviral medications available that suppress outbreaks. It is still possible, however, to pass on herpes even while not experiencing an outbreak.
Herpes Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention
The initial symptom of genital herpes is pain and itching of the genital skin. This is known as the prodromal stage and occurs 2–7 days after exposure. This stage is followed by small tender sores or lesions all around the genital area. When they rupture, they become oozing ulcers that will scab up after 3 to 4 days. You may experience pain and tenderness in the genitals until the outbreak clears. If this is the first outbreak, you may also experience flu-like symptoms. The doctor may be able to diagnose HSV 2 by physical examination or by culturing a sample of the fever blisters or ulcers. The doctor will also test you for other STDs as others are frequently present.
Pregnant women with HSV 2 risk passing it onto their babies during delivery; this is known as neonatal herpes simplex. The main risk for infecting babies is if the woman is experiencing an outbreak at the time the baby is due. There are antiviral medications that can be taken for the three weeks during the due date to reduce the risk of outbreak. If you are experiencing an outbreak during this time, the doctor may choose to deliver the baby cesarean. HSV 2 in babies can cause brain damage, blindness, and death. So, if you have herpes and you're pregnant, discuss this with your doctor.
Herpes has no cure or vaccine, and the virus remains dormant in the affected area periodically reactivating and causing symptoms. The disease is extremely contagious when sores are present. But apart from the sores, HSV 2 doesn't cause any other serious side effects in adults. The strain that causes cold sores, HSV 1, on the other hand, does occasionally cause and has been linked to herpes simplex encephalitis, ocular herpes, herpes gladiatorum, bell's palsy, and Alzheimer's disease. So, in that way, I guess you're better off with HSV 2. Woot.
Because herpes can't be cured, treatment consists of suppressing outbreaks and keeping the virus dormant. During the initial outbreak, antiviral drugs taken orally help speed up healing. Popular antiviral drugs include aciclovir (Zovirax), valaciclovir (Valtrex), famciclovir (Famvir), and penciclovir. The initial treatment doesn't prevent recurrence. If symptoms frequently recur, they should be taken daily to suppress outbreaks. Treating the sores consists of keeping them clean and dry. Wash your hands after touching the sores because of their highly contagious nature. Refrain from intercourse during outbreaks.
Using a condom during sexual intercourse will help to reduce the risk for infection. If you're sexually active, a monogamous sexual relationship with an uninfected person is the best way to avoid the disease. But that is not a very realistic portrait of today's sexually active population. If you have lots of lovers, just talk to them and encourage them to get tested frequently. Herpes is extremely contagious while sores are present. People infected with HSV 2 and experiencing an outbreak should abstain from sex until the sores are completely healed.
A Cure for Herpes . . . To Be Continued
The title of this article is how to get rid of herpes. And, unfortunately, I am unable to answer that question. And so this article is incomplete. Hopefully, one day someone will discover a cure for this disease. On that day, 45 million Americans will be very happy, and this article will be complete. Until then, this article's primary goal is to teach about HSV 2 and to help those infected with herpes deal with it by treating the symptoms. The worst part about this, and many other sexually transmitted diseases, is that so many people don't know that they have it. I hope that statistics like that encourage more people to get tested for herpes on a regular basis. I also hope that it helps people to make better, wiser decisions about who they have sex with. Or, at the very least, realize that using protection is worth the small sacrifice of pleasure and sensation. A few years ago our sex education program was stalled-out by a presidential bill putting 300 million dollars into a unrealistic abstinence-only program, a program primarily executed by faith-based groups in our public schools. It troubles me to think of the unconstitutionality that decision represents. But I have a lot of hope for the future. How about you?