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    Sexual Health and Genital Herpes

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    How Often Do Herpes Outbreaks Happen?

    How often herpes outbreaks occur depends on the person. On average, people with herpes experience about four outbreaks a year. The first outbreak usually is the most painful and takes the longest to heal. The pain and recovery time often decrease with each outbreak.

    What Triggers a Herpes Outbreak?

    It depends on the person. Some commonly reported triggers include:

    • Stress
    • Illness
    • Surgery
    • Vigorous sex
    • Diet
    • Monthly period

    How Is Genital Herpes Diagnosed?

    Your doctor can diagnose genital herpes by visual inspection if the outbreak is typical and by examining a sample from the sore(s). But HSV infections can be difficult to diagnose between outbreaks. Your doctor may check for ulcers internally -- on the cervix in women and the urethra in men. Blood tests that detect HSV-1 or HSV-2 antibodies may be helpful, although the results are not always easy to interpret.

    How Is Genital Herpes Treated?

    There is no cure for genital herpes, but your doctor can prescribe anti-viral drugs, in pill or ointment form, that may help the sores heal faster.

    Over-the-counter painkillers may help with the discomfort.

    If recurrences of your genital herpes are frequent, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication [such as acyclovir (Zovirax), famciclovir, (Famvir), and valacyclovir (Valtrex)], and to take on a regular basis to help suppress the outbreaks.

    How Does Genital Herpes Affect a Pregnant Woman and Her Baby?

    Outbreaks of genital herpes during pregnancy have been associated with miscarriage, stillbirth, prematurity, and herpes infection that can cause severe brain injury and possible blindness in the baby. In most cases, women with herpes give birth to healthy babies. If you have herpes and plan to have children, talk to your doctor.

    How Can I Protect Myself From Herpes?

    To prevent getting genital herpes:

    • Do not have sex with someone who has an open sore on his or her sex organs.
    • Always use a latex condom during sex.
    • Limit your number of sex partners.

    Taking antiviral medications can reduce the risk of a person with genital herpes from spreading the disease, but that doesn't eliminate the risk. Be sure to practice the measures listed above to decrease risk.

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