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Genital Herpes Glossary of Terms

You may hear some of the words and terms that follow as you learn about genital herpes. We have chosen some that seem obvious, but have slightly different meanings when used in the context of genital herpes. For example, you may think you know what genitals are, but read the definition.


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Antibodies are proteins that circulate in the body. Whenever a person is exposed to a new pathogen (a virus or bacterium), the immune system creates specific antibodies for it. When an antibody bumps into the pathogen, it sends a message to the immune system's "killer" cells, prompting them to attack the invader.


Antiviral drugs are used to treat viral infections, just as antibiotics treat bacterial infections. The main practical difference is that antiviral drugs for genital or oral herpes and many other viruses (HIV, for example) do not kill the virus and wipe out the infection. These antiviral agents slow the virus' reproduction process (called replication), helping to control, not cure, the disease. Antibiotics, however, are usually able to cure bacterial infections completely.

Clinical trial

Clinical trials are scientific studies designed to test whether a new medical treatment is safe and effective. There are four phases of clinical trials. Phase I is a small study that looks at safety only. Phase II looks at safety and efficacy (whether or not it works). Phase III is a large study that's the last step before approval by the FDA, or a similar regulatory agency in other countries. Phase IV monitors the treatment's long-term safety and efficacy after it has been approved for consumers.

Cold sore

This sore appears on the lips or skin close to the lips and is caused by the herpes virus. HSV-1 causes most cold sores. This is also sometimes called a fever blister.

Dental dam

A dental dam is a piece of latex rubber that's designed to be used as a barrier to sexually transmitted diseases. It's placed over the vaginal area or anus during cunnilingus and analingus. A latex glove or condom cut into a square sheet can be used as an alternative.

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