An estimated one million people are newly infected with the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) each year. While most people have mild or unrecognized symptoms and remain undiagnosed, many individuals seek medical attention when they begin to suffer from the painful ulcers characteristic of this viral disease.
HSV-1 can cause genital herpes, but it more commonly causes infections of the mouth and lips, so-called “fever blisters.” HSV-1 infection of the genitals can be caused by oral-genital or genital-genital contact with a person who has HSV-1 infection. Genital HSV-1 outbreaks recur less regularly than genital HSV-2 outbreaks.
HSV-2 infection is more common in women (approximately one out of four women) than in men (almost one out of five). This may be due to male-to-female transmissions being more efficient than female-to-male transmission.
Most people diagnosed with a first episode of genital herpes can expect to have several outbreaks (symptomatic recurrences) a year (typically four or five). Over time these recurrences usually decrease in frequency.
In addition, genital HSV can cause potentially fatal infections in babies if the mother has sores at the time of delivery. It is important that women avoid contracting herpes during pregnancy because a first episode during pregnancy causes a greater risk of transmission to the baby. If a woman has active genital herpes at delivery, a cesarean delivery is usually performed. Fortunately, infection of a baby from a woman with herpes infection is rare.
Worldwide, herpes may play a role in the heterosexual spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Herpes can make people more susceptible to HIV infection, and it can make HIV-infected individuals more infectious.
Genital ulcer diseases can occur in both male and female genital areas that are covered or protected by a latex condom, as well as in areas that are not covered. Correct and consistent use of latex condoms can reduce the risk of genital herpes only when the infected area or site of potential exposure is protected. Since a condom may not cover all infected areas, even correct and consistent use of latex condoms cannot guarantee protection from genital herpes.
Persons with herpes should abstain from sexual activity with uninfected partners when lesions or other symptoms of herpes are present. It is important to know that even if you do not have any symptoms you can still infect your sex partner. Even if there are no symptoms, sex partners of infected persons should be advised that they may become infected. Partners can seek testing to determine if they are already infected with HSV, or are still at risk for acquiring HSV. A positive HSV-2 blood test would mean that they probably have genital herpes; however, a positive HSV-1 blood test means that they have probably been infected with HSV-1, but the infection could be genital or it could be oral.
If you think you may have a sexually transmitted disease, you should see a physician immediately to be properly diagnosed and treated. You should not try to diagnose or treat symptoms on your own.
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