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What's this 'Sore'...Genital Herpes?!

Itching, redness, and discharge are common symptoms of genital infections, but a ‘Painful Sore’ usually raises the suspicion for Genital Herpes. Most people are unaware of how common the Herpes Virus infection actually is.  According to the CDC, 1 out of 6 people have the virus, though they may not be aware of it (i.e., never had an outbreak, or have never been tested for it.)  The risk of spreading the virus is greatest when an active lesion (a painful sore) is present.  Part of the reason for the high frequency of spread of this virus, is the fact that transmission of the virus can occur, even without visible signs of the infection (no sore present!) This is termed ‘asymptomatic shedding.’  Once exposed to the virus (by oral/genital skin contact during sex), infection may happen (the virus enters your bloodstream)…though, it may-or-may not, cause visible signs of infection.  1 out of 6 people would test positive for the infection by culture or blood test (even though they may not be aware of their previous exposure/infection.)


When symptoms do occur, it usually involves one or more small blisters, that eventually break, leaving a small ‘Painful Sore’.  There could also be small linear breaks in the skin (called ‘fissures’) that also may be painful.  Flu-like illness, lymph node swelling in the genital area, and more numerous/painful sores may occur in an initial outbreak.  Recurrent outbreaks tend to be more mild. The symptoms may resolve on their own within a week or two.  Antiviral medications are effective in shortening the length of time to recovery.

Genital Herpes is caused by the Herpes Virus, usually HSV-2HSV-1 causes oral herpes (cold-sores on the mouth and lips.)  With the increase in oral-genital sex, HSV-1 is more frequently causing genital herpes as well.  Condom use and antiviral medications are helpful in reducing the rate of viral transmission.

Aside from the discomfort and psychological distress that may occur with recurrent infections, Genital Herpes rarely causes more serious illness in adults.  On the contrary, Herpes infections can be very serious in newborns. Pregnant women with genital herpes should inform their healthcare providers of their diagnosis to discuss preventive treatments.

For more information on Genital Herpes, visit the CDC’s fact sheet/Herpes at http://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/stdfact-herpes.htm


Suzanne Hall, MD



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