There’s no way to sugarcoat the reality of genital herpes. It spreads easily, can cause painful sores, and affects 12-20% of teens and adults.
But every negative aspect of genital herpes can be offset by an encouraging fact. As family medicine specialists, David Leszkowitz, DO, and the team of certified nurse practitioners at White Lake Family Medicine work with people of all ages dealing with genital herpes, helping them prevent and get relief from flare-ups.
Here, they offer essential and encouraging information about genital herpes.
Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease caused by the herpes virus. The herpes simplex type 2 (HSV-2) virus causes genital herpes, while herpes simplex type 1 (HSV-1) is responsible for oral herpes. However, both viruses can cause herpes sores (ulcers) in both locations.
You get herpes through direct contact with someone already infected with the virus. Or you can get the virus by touching an item used by an infected person.
Once you have the virus, it stays in your body throughout your lifetime. However, it remains inactive (dormant) most of the time.
The virus is most contagious when you have blisters, but the unfortunate fact is that you can spread it to another person even when you don’t have obvious symptoms.
Though outbreaks can be very uncomfortable, the herpes virus isn’t deadly and doesn’t cause long-lasting symptoms. With today’s treatment options, most people can keep genital herpes under control.
Here are four encouraging facts about genital herpes:
You may have an outbreak of herpes blisters within a few weeks of getting the virus. Or you may never develop herpes sores. You may only have one outbreak, or you could have many recurrent episodes.
The most severe outbreak of genital herpes is the first one. You develop multiple painful blisters in the genital area and sometimes on your buttocks and thighs.
While the first blisters gradually heal, new blisters may keep appearing during the first week. Then the outbreak clears up in two to three weeks.
The good news is that future outbreaks (if you have them) appear less frequently and are less severe. Even if you don’t get treatment, recurrent episodes are milder.
We can’t cure the virus that causes genital herpes, but there’s still encouraging news: We have antiviral medications that can reduce the severity and duration of future flare-ups. And in many cases, medication can stop or significantly reduce future outbreaks.
You have two medication options: episodic and suppressive. Episodic refers to taking medication as soon as herpes sores appear. If you take the medication within one day, it shortens the duration of your outbreak and relieves your symptoms.
Suppressive therapy means taking daily medication to prevent or reduce the frequency of future flare-ups. This treatment also lowers the risk of spreading the virus to a partner.
The herpes virus finds its way to nerve bundles and stays dormant until something triggers an outbreak. Most people can predict outbreaks from the signs they experience before a herpes flare-up begins.
About half of all people with recurrent genital herpes outbreaks experience sensations like tingling, itching, or pain in their legs, hips, or buttocks. You could also develop flu-like symptoms.
When you have these early warning signs, you can take episodic medication. The medication may stop the flare-up, or at the very least, it will reduce your symptoms and heal the outbreak faster.
You can prevent a herpes outbreak by identifying and avoiding triggers. You can’t stop some onsets like menstrual periods and illness. But you can take steps to prohibit other triggers, such as fatigue, exposure to sunlight, and too much stress.
If you have any questions about genital herpes or need treatment for an outbreak, call White Lake Family Medicine or request an appointment online today.