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Genital Herpes

Intro

With an initial outbreak, if you have signs or symptoms of a genital herpes infection, you should seek the care of a doctor as soon as possible, particularly if you have never been diagnosed with herpes before. Although genital herpes infections generally are not emergencies, treatment is more effective when it is started within the first few days of the outbreak.

Later outbreaks rarely need immediate medical attention.

  • If you have had a herpes outbreak before, discuss options for preventing further outbreaks with your doctor.
  • People with severe underlying medical problems (particularly HIV or AIDS ) are at higher risk of severe illness if the disease is untreated. They should contact their doctors immediately upon noticing genital herpes sores.
  • A pregnant woman  with signs or symptoms of genital herpes must inform her doctor as soon as possible. Prompt medical therapy may reduce the risk of transmitting the disease to newborn children by exposure in the birth canal.

In otherwise healthy people, genital herpes outbreaks rarely require hospital visits. If you are experiencing an initial episode of herpes and cannot be seen by your regular doctor within the first few days of the illness, go to a hospital's emergency department to have medical treatment started.

  • Some people can become quite ill from herpes infections. If you have a high fever, severe headache, shortness of breath, or extreme fatigue, go to the hospital for evaluation.
  • People with severe medical illnesses (particularly HIV or AIDS ) may become very ill from herpes infections. The herpes virus may quickly spread to the brain, lungs, and other organs. If this is your situation, seek prompt medical attention for herpes outbreaks. Go to a hospital if there is any sign of illness other than sores on the genitals.
Self-Care at Home
  • Avoid excessive heat or sunlight, which makes the irritation more uncomfortable.
  • Do not use perfumed or antibacterial soaps, feminine deodorant, or douches.
  • Wear more comfortable, loose cotton clothing.
  • For pain, you may take aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol), or ibuprofen (Advil).
  • Cool cloths on the affected area may soothe the pain.
Follow-up

Anyone diagnosed with genital herpes must disclose the diagnosis with sexual partners. These partners should be advised to seek medical attention if they develop any signs of the illness. Generally, nothing needs to be done if the partner has no signs of developing a herpes infection.

Prevention

People with genital herpes outbreaks are highly contagious. Anyone with active disease should avoid any sexual contact when sores are present. Even the use of a condom does not prevent the spread of disease because not all sores are covered by the condom.

Although the chance of spreading disease is greatest when sores are present, people who have had genital herpes may always be contagious to some degree, even if they have received medical treatment. The virus can become active and be transmitted to a sexual partner even when the skin appears completely normal. For this reason, safe sex practices (use of a condom) should be used between disease outbreaks to lessen the chance of spreading disease to a sexual partner.

Outlook

Treatment of genital herpes does not cure the disease. The virus usually lives (in an inactive form) in an infected person forever. Most people (85%) with genital herpes will have recurring outbreaks—sometimes 6 to 10 a year. Recurrences are likely to have less severe symptoms. Sores usually last a shorter period of time.

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