The love bug: genital herpes
Dear Ate Anna,
Thank you for the information about cold sores in the November 16th issue. Every year around this time, I get a cold sore. My husband teases me that I get my “Christmas” present early.
Ate Anna, I would also like to know more about the other type of herpes. Can you give me some information about it?
The holiday season (the shopping frenzy for Christmas gifts, preparing for parties and Christmas dinner for family and friends, etc.) can be a stressful time that can trigger your annual outbreak of cold sores.
As mentioned in the November 16th issue, there are two types of herpes virus. Cold sores, which appear on or around the mouth, are caused by Type 1 or herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1). The other type of herpes virus - Type 2 or Herpes Simples Virus 2 (HSV-2) causes genital herpes.
Genital herpes is highly contagious and is spread by skin-to-skin contact with an infected person as well as through sexual contact (vaginal, oral or anal sex). The virus causes sores around the genital area (private parts). However, if a person has a cold sore on the mouth, he/she can transmit the virus to another person’s genitals through oral sex. It can also be transmitted from genitals to mouth. In addition, if a pregnant woman has active herpes sores during childbirth, it can infect the newborn baby and cause serious health complications.
Many people who are infected with the Herpes virus have no symptoms or only very mild symptoms. They may not even be aware of their infection. Even so, they can pass the virus to their sexual partners. Some people will experience their first outbreak of genital herpes soon after becoming infected. The signs and symptoms usually develop 2 to 20 days later.
Symptoms of genital herpes may include:
Itchiness in the genital area
Small blisters in the vagina, vulva, urethra, cervix (for women); on or around the penis, testicles (for men); on or around the anus; or on the thighs or buttocks
Flu-like feeling (fever, aches in joints and muscles)
Swollen and tender lymph glands in the groin
The first outbreak is usually more severe and painful than later outbreaks. The blisters break leaving painful, open sores that may last for up to two or more weeks. These sores usually dry up and form a scab. The scab will fall off by itself. A recurrent outbreak will usually be less severe and last less time than the first outbreak. Some people are aware when an active outbreak is coming; they experience a slight tingling or burning feeling. As time goes by, these outbreaks are likely to become less common.
Getting blisters or sores around the genitals can be very embarrassing. Even though there is no cure, it is important to see a doctor for treatment if symptoms appear. Medications are available to speed the healing of sores during outbreaks and to prevent future outbreaks.
An important note: a person with genital herpes has an increased risk of getting infected with HIV if she or he has sex with someone who is HIV+ and they did not use condoms. This is because HIV can enter the body more easily whenever there is a break in the skin (such as herpes sores around the genitals).
Genital Herpes is a common sexually transmitted infection. Although the chances of spreading the virus are greatest when the sores are present, people who have genital herpes may always be contagious to some degree. Remember, an infected person can pass the virus to someone else even when there are no visible sores. For prevention:
Always use condoms. However, the area of skin not covered by the condom is not protected. Female condoms cover more area around the genitals than male condoms.
Use condoms or oral dams for protection during oral sex.
Avoid sex and skin-to-skin contact (kissing, vaginal, anal and oral sex) if the partner has a cold sore on the mouth or sores on or around the genital area.
Practise good hand washing and personal hygiene. Don’t share towels, pillowcases, and drinks, eating utensils or toothbrushes.
For more information about genital herpes, visit: www.sexualityandu.ca/adults/sti-1-3.aspx
Have a happy holiday!!
Ate Anna welcomes your questions and comments.
Please write to: Ate Anna, 2nd floor, 555 Broadway, Winnipeg, MB. R3C 0W4
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