February 14, 2019
The Skinny on the Herpes Virus
Of the commonly known sexually transmitted diseases, herpes is probably only second to HIV in causing panic among sexually active individuals. There is good reason for this, as statistics show that although the rate of infection for other STD’s is dropping worldwide, the rate for herpes infection is actually rising. The Center for Disease Control estimates that, in the United States, 1 out of every 6 people between the ages of 14 and 49 has genital herpes.
All forms of sexual contact – oral, vaginal, anal and even kissing – can transmit the herpes virus. Herpes symptoms can vary from person to person, and some people who are infected may never even know they carry the disease because it remains dormant in their bodies. Other people can experience outbreaks almost immediately after infection. Herpes outbreaks can occur in as little as 2 to 20 days after exposure to the virus.
Herpes appears as a small blister on the skin in the genital area. The blisters do not always form directly on the genitals, and can also appear on the thigh region close to the genitals. Herpes blisters are painful sores, and when they erupt they ooze liquid. It is through contact with this liquid that the herpes virus is spread. Once the sores have erupted, they will crust over and gradually heal and disappear over a period of several weeks. This period, when sores are visible on the body, is commonly known as an outbreak. First outbreaks can also be accompanied by flu-like symptoms, such as aches, fever, and swollen glands. Although there is no cure for the herpes virus, prescription medications that can manage and shorten outbreaks are available. Many people who live with the herpes virus also find that managing stress levels helps to limit outbreaks.
Herpes is a very serious infection even aside from the sexually transmitted nature of the virus. Once an outbreak occurs, infected individuals must work diligently to control the outbreak and keep it from spreading to other parts of the body. The liquid that erupts from herpes sores is the source of infection, and touching sores can spread the virus to other body parts. Especially serious are when herpes infections spread to the eyes or brain. Individuals with already compromised immune systems from HIV or other illnesses are at a higher risk of developing serious complications from a herpes infection.
Prevention is the key to avoiding a herpes infection. If sexually active, know your partners and their histories thoroughly. Many people find the discussion of STD’s embarrassing or insulting, but since there is no cure for herpes, staying informed is the only sure method of preventing exposure. Regular STD testing is necessary, especially when switching sexual partners. Using condoms during sex can help to reduce transmission of the virus, but condoms cannot prevent it completely. Herpes sores can appear in areas not covered by a condom and transmit the virus through skin-to-skin contact. The only guaranteed way to avoid coming in contact with the herpes virus is through 100% abstinence from sexual contact. Once a sexual relationship is begun, remaining monogamous with an uninfected partner will help reduce the risk of infection.
If you think you might have herpes, or have been exposed to herpes, talk to your doctor immediately. Beginning treatment right away can be a profound help in keeping herpes infections under control.