People often don’t have serious problems from herpes, but there’s a chance of them. Wash your hands often, especially during an outbreak. If you touch a blister and rub your eyes, the infection can spread to your eyes. If your eyes are red, swollen, hurt, or are sensitive to light, see your doctor. Treating it can help prevent serious vision problems.
Many sexual health clinics offer a walk-in service, where you don’t need an appointment. They’ll often get test results quicker than GP practices and you don’t have to pay a prescription fee for treatment.
The good news is that there is less stigma attached to all STIs in the gay community, that safer sex practices are widely accepted, and that there is a range of sexual health services specifically aimed at gay men and women. You can find contact details for some of those services on the websites listed at the back of this booklet.
There are similar antiviral drugs available for the treatment of genital herpes infection, These antiviral medications vary in cost and how often they should be taken. All should be taken for 7 to 10 days. The patient’s doctor may extend the course of therapy if ulcers have not healed in 10 days. Examples of these antiviral medications include:
Jump up ^ Enders G, Miller E, Cradock-Watson J, Bolley I, Ridehalgh M (1994). “Consequences of varicella and herpes zoster in pregnancy: prospective study of 1739 cases”. The Lancet. 343 (8912): 1548–51. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(94)92943-2. PMID 7802767.
Herpes is caused by infection with one of the human herpesviruses. Most oral herpes virus infections are due to the virus known as HSV-1, while genital herpes virus infections are most often caused by HSV-2. However, both kinds of herpes virus can infect any location in the body.
After the herpes blisters disappear, a person may think the virus has gone away — but it’s actually hiding in the body. Both HSV-1 and HSV-2 can stay hidden away in the body until the next herpes outbreak, when the virus reactivates itself and the sores return, usually in the same area.
If you have your first genital herpes outbreak during pregnancy, tell your doctor. He or she may want to treat you with an antiviral medicine. The risk of your baby getting herpes is much higher if you have your first genital herpes outbreak near the time of delivery.
Jump up ^ Mayou, R (1975). “Psychological morbidity in a clinic for sexually transmitted disease”. The British journal of venereal diseases. 51 (1): 57–60. doi:10.1136/sti.51.1.57. PMC 1045113 . PMID 1173225.
Some people have only one or less herpes outbreaks a year while others suffer numerous episodes. On average, the number outbreaks and the symptoms they cause also depends on the type of herpes virus you are infected with. People with herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV1 or herpes type 1) – which is more common in herpes outbreaks above the waist (for example cold sores) – causes less frequent attacks and less severe symptoms than herpes simplex 2 (HSV2) which causes genital herpes.
Pedro Cuatrecasas states, “during the R&D of acyclovir (Zovirax), marketing [department of Burroughs Wellcome] insisted that there were ‘no markets’ for this compound. Most had hardly heard of genital herpes…” Thus, marketing the medical condition—separating the ‘normal cold sore’ from the ‘stigmatized genital infection’ was to become the key to marketing the drug, a process now known as ‘disease mongering’.
How often can you get outbreaks? The frequency with which outbreaks recur depends on your immune system. Why some people have only one outbreak per year while others encounter over 6 outbreaks is not known. However, a healthy immune system tends to keep the virus at bay.
Through close (sexual) contact with the sores of an infected person, the virus can invade the moist mucous membranes of the genitals or surrounding skin through microscopic tears. If a person’s fingers are contaminated by infected secretions, the virus can be spread by hand to other parts of the body. Although not common, a pregnant woman who is infected can pass the virus to her baby. Very rarely this happens while the baby is still in the uterus, and it more usually occurs during delivery when the baby passes through the infected birth canal.
Jump up ^ Stumpf MP, Laidlaw Z, Jansen VA (2002). “Herpes viruses hedge their bets”. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 99 (23): 15234–37. Bibcode:2002PNAS…9915234S. doi:10.1073/pnas.232546899. PMC 137573 . PMID 12409612. Archived from the original on 2011-09-18.
Jump up ^ Fiala M, Chow A, Guze LB (April 1972). “Susceptibility of Herpesviruses to Cytosine Arabinoside: Standardization of Susceptibility Test Procedure and Relative Resistance of Herpes Simplex Type 2 Strains”. Antimicrob. Agents Chemother. 1 (4): 354–57. doi:10.1128/aac.1.4.354. PMC 444221 . PMID 4364937.
Pregnant women with symptoms of genital herpes should inform their health care providers. Preventing acquisition of a new genital herpes infection is particularly important for women in late pregnancy, as this is when the risk for neonatal herpes is greatest.
Topical antiviral creams are available over the counter but are no longer subsidised on the pharmaceutical schedule and are not recommended as a treatment for first episode or recurrent genital herpes as they are of little benefit.
A positive blood test is mixed news. It means that a person is a herpes carrier but it also means that they are immune to infection from someone else. Therefore, if both you and your partner have antibodies to HSV type 1 and type 2, you are not at risk from each other.
In women, the herpes virus most commonly causes the symptoms of painful urination and abnormal vaginal discharge. Blisters inside the vagina can last up to three weeks, before they heal on their own. The inflammation of the cervix (neck of the womb) is also a typical sign of genital herpes in women.
There are 2 distinct types of herpes—HSV1 is an orofacial disease, meaning it infects the mouth and surrounding area; while HSV2 affects individuals below the waist, particularly the moist areas of the genitals and buttocks. Once infected with HSV the patient will have the disease for life. The infection will remain dormant in the body with flare-ups occurring a few times per year. However, medical attention is vital to prevent further health complications.
To prevent or reduce herpes recurrences – this is known as ‘suppressive’ therapy. If your recurrent herpes outbreaks are frequent or severe – or if you find them particularly problematic – your doctor may recommend that you take oral antiviral medication every day to help prevent recurrences happening. Suppressive therapy is taken continuously, i.e. daily, for months or even years. Suppressive antiviral therapy has also been shown to reduce viral shedding between episodes and therefore may help reduce the risk of transmitting the herpes virus to sexual partners. Recent studies have shown suppressive treatment with Valtrex reduces transmission of symptomatic herpes by 75%.
Most people don’t experience symptoms when first infected and they can take months or years to develop. If symptoms do occur when first infected, they usually develop in four to seven days. Symptoms are normally more severe the first time than in re-occurring infections.4
The sexually transmitted disease genital herpes is associated primarily with HSV-2. The virus is highly contagious and may be transmitted by individuals who are lifelong carriers but who remain asymptomatic (and may not even know they are infected). Infections are most often acquired through direct genital contact. Sexual practices involving oral-genital contact may be responsible for some crossover infections of HSV-1 to the genital area or of HSV-2 to the mouth and lips, while other crossover infections may be the result of self-infection through hand-genital-mouth contact.