Sexually Transmitted Infections - MacArthur Medical Center

18 Facts About Genital Herpes

  1. Herpes affects about 1/5 adults.
  2. It is spread through close skin contact, typically during sexual activity.
  3. You cannot catch herpes from toilet seats, hot tubs, or any other objects.
  4. Once exposed to the virus, herpes never leaves your body; however, not everyone who is exposed will develop symptoms
  5. The most common symptoms of an active herpes outbreak are small, fluid-filled blisters on the genitals, buttocks, or mouth. They typically are very painful and may burn.
  6. You may experience flu-like symptoms (fever, muscle aches, fatigue) a few days before the lesions develop. These are called prodromal symptoms.
  7. The first herpes outbreak is typically the most painful and typically lasts longer than recurrent outbreaks.
  8. About 90% of people who have an initial herpes outbreak will develop a subsequent outbreak.
  9. We diagnose herpes by two methods – either by a skin culture or by blood work. Typically both are used together in addition to a physical exam.
    • The skin culture can only be done when you have an active lesion. A positive result confirms the diagnosis of herpes, but a negative result does not rule it out.
    • The blood work will show us if you have been exposed to herpes in the past but may not confirm if a genital lesion is an active herpes outbreak
  10. There is no cure for herpes, but we can treat the symptoms with antiviral medication.
  11. You do not have to take medication for the rest of your life if you have been diagnosed with herpes. Many people only take medication during active outbreaks.
  12. If you have frequent recurrent outbreaks, you can take the antiviral medications daily to help suppress future outbreaks.
  13. Recurrences tend to be triggered by stress or a weakened immune system.
  14. A healthy diet and regular exercise can help to reduce stress and boost your immune system, decreasing your chances of recurrence, but not eliminating them.
  15. If you develop herpes during pregnancy, we can treat it with the same antivirals. You can still deliver your baby vaginally, if you do not have an active herpes outbreak at the time of delivery.
  16. You should not be sexually active if you have an active outbreak, as you will transmit the virus to the other person.
  17. Using a condom can reduce the risk of transmission, but does not protect against all cases.
  18. Herpes cannot be cured, but the symptoms can be treated. With the use of medications, most patients are able to lead a normal, healthy life despite the diagnosis.

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