Frequently Asked Questions After a Genital Herpes Diagnosis

You may ask these common questions if you've just found out you have genital herpes. Find some answers below.

If I continue to have sex, will I infect my partner with genital herpes?

It's certainly possible. You can reduce the risk to your partner by having sex only when you have no symptoms. However, the virus can still be contagious without any noticeable symptoms such as sores or a rash on the skin. That's why you should always use a latex condom. A condom does not completely eliminate the risk, because it may not cover an affected area, but it does offer some protection.

Taking the antiviral drugs acyclovir (Zovirax), Valtrex, and Famvir can make symptoms appear less often and make them less severe. There is some evidence that these drugs also may protect against transmission.

Is there any way to get rid of genital herpes?

There is no cure for genital herpes. Unless scientists find one in the future, you will always have the virus. But taking antiviral drugs can help manage your condition. Ask your doctor about treatment options.

How serious is genital herpes?

Genital herpes can be painful, inconvenient, and upsetting, but it's not considered a life-threatening condition. Even so, it may increase the risk of getting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, because the sores are prime spots for HIV to get into the body. What's more, being infected with HIV and the herpes virus may make both diseases worse.

A pregnant woman can pass genital herpes on to her baby, so it's particularly serious during pregnancy. If you get infected near the end of pregnancy, the risk is highest. At least 30% and as many as 50% of newly infected pregnant women give the virus to their babies. For moms who were infected long before delivery, the risk is much lower. Less than 1% of babies born to mothers with an older genital herpes infection get the virus. Also, doctors usually will perform a cesarean section (C-section) if a woman is having an outbreak at the time of delivery.

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How often will I have symptoms of genital herpes?

That depends on the type of herpes virus you have. After being infected, people with herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV-1) tend to have far fewer and less severe outbreaks than those infected with herpes simplex virus-2 (HSV-2). Both types can cause genital herpes. Many people never have symptoms, and don't even know they are infected.

In those who do have symptoms, how often they will appear and how long they will last varies greatly from person to person. Stress, illness, menstruation, and various other factors can trigger a flare-up.

Should I tell my partner I have genital herpes?

You should tell any sex partner that you have genital herpes. It's important to learn all you can about the condition and share that information. Then you and your partner can make an informed decision about sex. Tell a partner that there is always a chance of getting the virus from you, but that there are ways to reduce the risk, such as using latex condoms and avoiding sex when you have symptoms.

There are plenty of reasons why you should communicate openly. Your partner may have infected you, and he or she should know. It may also help your relationship in the long run. Your partner is likely to appreciate honesty.

When breaking the news, explain how common genital herpes is: About one in five adults in the U.S. are infected. You can say it's like having cold sores on the mouth (which 50% to 80% of all adults in the U.S. have), except the virus has infected your genitals. It will also help if you're calm when talking to your partner and approach the discussion with a positive attitude: "I think we can work this out so that we'll both be happy," not, "This will probably tear us apart, but...."

If you were sexually intimate with your partner before you were diagnosed, he or she should be tested for the virus.

Where can I find support for genital herpes?

Many resources are available for people living with genital herpes. A good place to start is the CDC National STD/HIV Hotline: 1-800-227-8922. Also, talk to your doctor about any concerns you have.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on September 08, 2016

Sources

SOURCES: 
Fleming, et al. New England Journal of Medicine; October 16, 1997. American Social Health Association. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. MEDLINEplus Medical Encyclopedia. CDC. WebMD Medical News: "Herpes Virus Linked to Cervical Cancer." Warren, T., Warren, R. The Updated Herpes Handbook., 2002, pp. 23-24. WebMD Medical News: "Genital Herpes Treatment Cuts Spread."

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