One in five Americans has genital herpes, but many don't know it because the symptoms can be mild or even absent. Genital herpes is usually spread by sexual contact and caused by the type 2 herpes virus (HSV-2). However, the type 1 herpes virus (HSV-1), which more commonly causes cold sores, can also infect the genitals -- usually through oral sex.
There's no cure for genital herpes. Once infected, you're infected for life.
There is no cure for genital herpes. However, some drugs have been effective in reducing the duration and frequency of herpes outbreaks. The decision to use one treatment over another for genital herpes depends on many factors that must be discussed with your health care provider:
Have you had a previous outbreak? The first episode of genital herpes is usually the worst and often has other symptoms, like fever and fatigue. Recurrent outbreaks aren't usually as painful and don't last as long...
Herpes is most often spread from active sores. But you don't have to have a sore to give the virus to another person. Occasionally, an infected person "sheds" infectious virus without obvious signs of an outbreak. That's why it is especially important to get tested -- to help prevent spreading the infection.
If you have been exposed to the genital herpes virus, there are steps you can take to prevent spreading the infection to a sexual partner.
The best way to prevent spread -- short of abstinence -- is to use a condom every time you have intercourse. In addition, some studies indicate that treatment with genital herpes medication may be able to help prevent spread of the infection from partner to partner among monogamous couples.
It's also very important for women to avoid getting a new herpes infection while pregnant. And if a woman is going to have a baby, she should know whether she has genital herpes. It's rare for a mother to give herpes to her newborn -- unless she's having an outbreak of genital herpes during delivery. In this event, a C-section may be necessary.
If you think you may have been exposed to genital herpes via sexual contact, it's a good idea to discuss testing with your doctor.