I just had my first genital herpes outbreak. It finally cleared up, but my doctor said that there’s a chance it will come back. Why does this happen?
Even though your symptoms have cleared, the virus did not. Once you are infected it is for life. When you are not experiencing symptoms, the virus lives in the nerves of the area it has infected. Recurring symptoms happen when the virus is “triggered” or reactivated. Sometimes the virus travels a short distance (for example, from the genitals to the buttocks) but always remains within the same nerve region.
Some people feel the virus trying to reactivate by experiencing burning or sharp pains in the affected area. Sometimes these signs happen right before an outbreak, but sometimes they disappear with no further symptoms. This is a sign that your body has successfully prevented the virus from reactivating.
Yes. The virus will not be transmitted through your blood.
Probably not. Although 20-25% of pregnant women have genital herpes, less than .1% of babies contract the virus from their mothers. Most women with genital herpes have normal vaginal deliveries. However, if a woman is experiencing symptoms at the time of delivery, it is recommended that she do a C-section instead of a vaginal delivery.
Please note that a woman who contracts genital herpes in the third trimester of pregnancy are the exception. This can be dangerous for the infant because the mother’s body has not yet developed the proper antibodies to control the virus. A C-section is usually recommended for these women.
If an infant does contract herpes, the symptoms will show 2-3 weeks after birth. Medication can be used to keep the virus from becoming dangerous to the baby.
The greatest risk of contracting herpes for most infants is a kiss from a relative with a cold sore.
Currently, there is no drug that cures genital herpes, only treatments to control symptoms and manage outbreaks. The three antiviral drugs approved by the FDA are acyclovir, famciclovir, and valacyclovir. These drugs are taken orally and can help speed up recovery during an outbreak.
There is also the herbal Gene-Eden-VIR/Novirin. Clinical studies showed that Gene-Eden-VIR/Novirin is safer and more effective than the three leading drugs in the treatment of genital herpes.*†
I don’t have genital herpes, but my new partner just told me that he does. Is there any way I can avoid getting it?
The first rule is to avoid any sexual activity during outbreaks and as long as any signs of the virus remain since the virus is at its most contagious state. Sexual activity includes vaginal, anal, and oral sex. Recurring outbreaks are usually shorter than the original outbreak, and get less frequent as the years go on. You and your partner can research ways to help lessen his chance of future outbreaks.
However, it is important to remember that the virus can still be transmitted in between outbreaks. Having your partner use latex condoms for any genital-to-genital contact will reduce your risk of contracting the virus during this time. Condoms should also be used with any sex toy that the two of you share. Because condoms don’t completely protect from contracting herpes, you can ask your partner if he is currently taking any antiviral treatment. Studies showed that taking such treatment can reduce the risk of transmission. So combining these two methods of protection is more effective than either one method alone.
The most frequent adverse effects reported in the product insert for suppressive, or long term, treatment with the genital herpes drugs are the following: nausea, diarrhea, and headache for acyclovir; headache, nausea, and abdominal pain for valacyclovir; and headache, nausea, and dizziness for famciclovir.
In addition, the medical literature reports non-common side effects for the three drugs. For instance, one study reported that a 78-year-old female with normal baseline kidney function, and no other factors that can damage the kidney, developed irreversible kidney damage after oral treatment with acyclovir. Another study reported that a patient developed kidney failure and mental changes following treatment with high-dose acyclovir. A third study showed that ACV treatment can lead to neurological damage that may lead to confusion, hallucinations, seizures, and obtundation.
Another study analyzed 76,269 patients who received acyclovir or valacyclovir, and 84,646 who received famciclovir. The results showed that 0.27% of the patients who were treated with acyclovir or valacyclovir, and 0.28% of the patients who were treated with famciclovir were hospitalized due to acute kidney injury.
It varies greatly from person-to-person. Some people never get another outbreak, while others experience more than 12 outbreaks per year.
I know that HPV can lead to cervical cancer. Can having genital herpes increase my risk of getting cancer?
No. There was a time when scientists thought that there was a correlation between cervical cancer and herpes, but further research has shown that this is not true.
My older brother has genital herpes and says it’s not a big deal at all. Why do people care so much about getting it?
While it is true that many people live happy, fulfilling lives with genital herpes, there are still many reasons to try and avoid contracting the disease.
Having genital sores increases the risk of contracting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This is because the open sores make it easier for HIV to enter the body. In addition, having herpes can aggravate HIV and make the condition worse. In return, having HIV can aggravate genital herpes and cause the symptoms to be worse as well.
Contracting herpes near the end of pregnancy can increase the risk of a woman transmitting the virus to her baby. 30% of women who are infected in their third trimester pass the virus to their babies. Herpes can be a life-threatening disease for infants and can cause long term damage.
Once you contract genital herpes, there is no cure and you are stuck with it for life. Living with this condition often forces you to make inconvenient changes in your life, particularly in your sex life which can be painful and uncomfortable. Outbreaks can be painful and scare away potential partners. It is preferable not to contract the disease.
No. The virus does not travel through the body. If you have a genital infection, you cannot transmit it to her orally.
No. The virus requires skin-to-skin contact to be transmitted. The virus dies once it is away from the infected skin. You also can’t get herpes from a toilet seat, despite what many people will claim.
However, it is never a good idea to share underwear with anyone, as you are at risk of contracting other parasites, like pubic lice.
I had unprotected sex with a stranger a few weeks ago and now I’m worried he might have given me genital herpes. What are the earliest signs?
Most people who experience symptoms will first notice them 1-2 weeks after exposure. The earliest signs include flu-like symptoms, nausea, muscle aches, and for women, vaginal discharge and painful urination. In addition, there might be tingling, burning or itching sensations in the area where blisters will appear. Soon after, most people will find a small cluster of blisters in the infected area.
It depends on your gender. For women, HSV-2 may limit how often you can have sex, which means conceiving may take longer. However, there is no direct link between herpes and a woman’s fertility. Men’s fertility, on the other hand, can be impacted by the HSV virus. Studies showed that even inactive viruses in the body can lead to lower sperm count and impaired reproductive functions.
Yes. Research showed that alcohol can weaken the immune system, which in turn, leaves your body vulnerable to an attack from the HSV virus. The stronger your immune system is, the better it can defend you against viruses like HSV.
Although pimples and herpes sores can look similar, it is usually possible to tell the difference. Pimples can hurt when you touch them, but a sore might also tingle, burn, or itch. Pimples often have a single whitehead or blackhead, herpes sores are usually a cluster of small blisters. Pimples can be filled with white pus, while herpes sores generally contain clear liquid.
If none of these help, you can simply wait and see what happens. Herpes occurs in cycles, with sores returning to the same area of the lower lip, while pimples often occur anywhere on the face.
I had a full STI check before my girlfriend and I started having sex. Now, she’s claiming that I gave her herpes. How can this be possible?
It’s very possible because STI checks won’t detect herpes. The most common way to test for herpes is through swabs taken from active sores while the infected person is experiencing symptoms.
I have oral herpes, can I infect my own genitals if I touch my mouth and then my penis without washing my hands?
Incredibly unlikely. If you have the virus in one part of your body, your immune system has probably already developed antibodies to protect other parts of the body. This does not mean, however, that you cannot catch genital herpes from someone else.
Although laser therapy does not cure herpes, it can help heal sores faster. It has also been shown to help increase the time between breakouts, by up to 17 months according to one study.
Yes. Herpes is the most common cause of viral encephalitis, which means swelling in the brain. This swelling occurs when the virus travels to the brain, instead of causing outbreaks in the skin. This brain swelling can cause seizures, mental changes, comas, and even death. If you have any of the symptoms of encephalitis, you should contact your doctor. The symptoms include high fever, confusion, personality changes, lethargy, and weakness in an area of the body, confusion, and seizures.
Is it true that having herpes means that I am more likely to develop Alzheimer's in the future? What if I had herpes once but never have outbreaks anymore?
Possibly. Although the connection is still being researched, studies are showing that the presence of HSV can increase the likelihood of developing dementia-inducing diseases like Alzheimer’s by up to 50%. Once you contract herpes, you have it for life. Even if the virus is inactive, or your immune system is successful in repressing it, it still remains in your body. A change in the body, like the weakening of the immune system that comes with old age, can reactivate the virus. Once reactivated, the virus can travel to the brain and cause damage.
Yes. Studies show that being circumcised can reduce the risk of contracting HSV by 30%.
I get bouts of depression occasionally and have found that almost every time I get depressed I also get a herpes outbreak. Can depression actually cause herpes outbreaks?
Yes. Studies show that depression can damage the immune system, which can leave an individual more vulnerable to a herpes attack. Boosting your immune system during times of depression (or just in general) can go a long way to increase the time between herpes outbreaks.
Yes. When the HSV virus occurs in the eye, it can cause scarring on the cornea which can result in blindness. A herpes infection in the eye is known as keratitis.You should see a doctor if you experience eye pain accompanied by a loss of vision, painful eye movement, loss of eye movement, or a severe headache.
No. If you have herpes and are wondering where you contracted it from, the answer is most likely not your tattoo parlor. However, unclean needles can transmit serious diseases like HIV and Hepatitis B and C, so it is always important to make sure your tattoo artist follows all sanitary guidelines.
I heard someone mention that certain birth controls can make herpes outbreaks worse. Is this true? I have genital herpes, are there any contraceptives that are safe to use?
Most likely, your friend was referring to the hormone progesterone. Progesterone is a female hormone which appears, in synthetic form, in many forms of female birth control. It also makes up an injectable form of birth control called Depo-Provera, which is essentially a shot of progesterone. Taken 4 times a year, this injection has proven to be very effective at preventing pregnancy. However, evidence exists that consistent use of the hormone might increase a woman’s risk of contracting genital herpes.
A 2015 study examined Ugandan women in stable, heterosexual relationships. It found that the consistent use of Depo-Provera may lead to an increased risk of contracting HSV-2. A more recent 2016 study of sex workers in Vancouver showed that exposure the Depo-Provera injection was associated with a four times higher risk of being infected with HSV-2.
Why does synthetic progesterone cause women to be more susceptible to contracting the HSV-2 virus? Can this make women who are already infected with the virus more vulnerable to flare-ups?
We found an animal study which showed that female mice in heat have a natural protection against the HSV virus. This is because a thick lining in the vagina forms a protective barrier during this time. However, the use of progesterone in these mice have been shown to make this lining thinner, and more penetrable by the virus.
Other data has indicated that hormone therapy (like the administration of progesterone) can affect the immune system. This is based on evidence that the level of certain antibodies become significantly lower after a Depo-Provera treatment. These antibodies might be important in the protecting against HSV-2. When the immune system is weak, people are more vulnerable to infection and outbreaks.
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M Eugenia Socías,1,2 Putu Duff,1 Jean Shoveller,1,3 Julio S G Montaner,1,2
Paul Nguyen,1 Gina Ogilvie,3 Kate Shannon.Use of injectable hormonal contraception and HSV-2 acquisition in a cohort of female sex workers in Vancouver, Canada. STI Online First, published on November 7, 2016 as 10.1136/sextrans-2016-052838
Gallichan WS1, Rosenthal KL.Effects of the estrous cycle on local humoral immune responses and protection of intranasally immunized female mice against herpes simplex virus type 2 infection in the genital tract.Virology. 1996 Oct 15;224(2):487-97.
Charu Kaushic, Ali A. Ashkar, Lesley A. Reid, and Kenneth L. Rosenthal.Progesterone Increases Susceptibility and Decreases Immune Responses to Genital Herpes Infection.J Virol. 2003 Apr; 77(8): 4558–4565. doi: 10.1128/JVI.77.8.4558-4565.2003.
I just got through my first outbreak, and it was pretty horrible. I know any recurrences probably won’t be as bad, but I was wondering how often people with genital herpes experience new outbreaks? How long do they last?
It depends on a few factors. The first factor is your immune system. If your immune system can successfully fight the virus, you won’t experience outbreaks. Symptoms occur when there is a weakness in the immune system. Eating a balanced diet, getting enough