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A Sore Subject: Dealing with Genital Herpes

A Sore Subject:
Dealing with Genital Herpes

What is herpes?
How do you get herpes?
Who can get herpes?
What can I do to avoid herpes?
How do I know if I have herpes?
What should I do if I think I have herpes?
How do I get rid of herpes?

What is herpes?
Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease that causes small, painful sores on the genitals and surrounding area. Herpes is usually caused by a virus called herpes simplex type 2. It's related to herpes simplex type 1, which is the virus that can cause cold sores. back to top

How do you get herpes?
Herpes is almost always passed from one person to another by intimate sexual contact, which is any touching of your genitals to another person's mouth, genitals, or anus. But it's possible to get herpes on other parts of the body just by touching the sores. back to top

Who can get herpes?
While people who have many sexual partners are more likely to get herpes, you only have to be exposed to the virus one time to catch it. back to top

What can I do to avoid herpes?
You can reduce your chances of catching herpes by using condoms. But the sores, which are also called lesions, can appear on parts of a boy's genitals that may not be covered by a condom. You can get herpes if you touch any open herpes sore on any part of anyone's body. The best way to avoid getting herpes or any sexually transmitted diseases is to not have sex or intimate sexual contact at all. back to top

How do I know if I have herpes?
The first time herpes appears in your body tends to be the worst. The symptoms of herpes include:
  • Sores or lesions
  • Herpes sores are usually painful. They start out as small blisters that open up, then crust over during healing. The blisters and open sores contain the herpes virus and are very contagious. Even though you are much more contagious when you have open sores, you can still pass the disease when you don't have sores at all.
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Many people get a fever, a headache, and muscle aches during the first time herpes appears.
  • Pain when you pee and other urinary symptoms
  • Herpes can affect your bladder and urethra, the tube that leads from the bladder to the outside. In that case, you may have a lot of pain when you pee. Herpes can also affect the nerves that control the bladder, so for a short while you may find it very difficult to pee or you may not be able to pee at all. back to top
What should I do if I think I have herpes?
Make an appointment to see your health professional. He or she can often tell you have herpes just by looking at the sores. The best way to confirm the diagnosis of herpes is a test called a viral culture. The health professional will touch one of the open sores with a swab and send it to the lab to check for the herpes virus. back to top

How do I get rid of herpes?
Right now, there's no cure for herpes. But there is a medicine called acyclovir, which your health professional will prescribe to make you feel better. Acyclovir can make the time you are sick with herpes shorter and can help to keep you from getting sick again.

Herpes is a recurrent disease. After the first time it appears in your body and you get better, you may get sick many more times. This doesn't mean you've caught the virus again. It happens because the virus still lives inside your body and can cause symptoms over and over again. You can take medicine to decrease the number of times you get sick from herpes, but you can't get rid of the virus. It's still living in your cells even if you don't feel sick.

If you get sick more times with the herpes virus, you probably won't feel as bad as you did the first time, and you'll recover sooner. You may be able tell when you're going to get sick again with the herpes virus because you might feel a tingling sensation or itching at the place where the sores will appear. back to top

Last Modified Date: 4/3/2001
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