Is it serious?
What is Genital Herpes?
Herpes is the gift that keeps on giving, the gift that lasts forever. It was once the most feared sexually transmitted disease - of course, that was long before learning about HIV or AIDS.
Current reports are that it is now an epidemic - about 500,000 people contracting it each year.
In the simplest terms, genital herpes is the same virus that causes cold sores on the mouth, except the sores occur on the genitals.
Genital Herpes is caused by the Herpes Simplex type II (HSV II) virus. It primarily affects the genital area and is transmitted by direct, skin-to-skin sexual contact, by genital contact (intercourse or masturbation) or oralgenital contact. It is not transmitted via toilet seats or public transportation.
Herpes Simplex I (HSV I) causes coldsores or fever blisters and can be transmitted to the genital area via oral sex. Conversely, genital herpes (HSV II) can be transmitted to a partner's mouth, resulting in your partner possibly contracting oral herpes (HSV I.)
HSV I and HSV II are two of five types of human herpes simplex viruses. The other three cause chicken pox, mononucleosis and shingles. The virus moves into healthy cells, reprogramming them to work for the virus. It remains in the body in some form for life, however, with time, the body eventually becomes more efficient in suppressing it.
It is a recurrent viral infection and presently there is no cure. To kill the virus means killing the nerve fibers it inhabits, which makes finding a cure difficult, but not impossible. And it's definitely a manageable disease. Recurring outbreaks can happen as often as a few times a month or as rarely as a few times a year.
Most of the time, the virus will remain dormant and will not be contagious. However, the virus can become active when the body's immune system is weakened, whether by stress, disease or environmentally related factors.
Most people infected with genital herpes, about 85%, are asymptomatic, or they do not notice or report symptoms. Recent studies say that the virus can be spread even during periods of asymptomatic "shedding" - when the virus is present and replicating itself, but not to the degree there are visible signs or symptoms.
Other than being primarily inconvenient, the virus can become serious in two situations. If it is transmitted to the eyes, it can cause blindness. It's imperative that hands and towels be washed after any contact with active lesions. Second, pregnant women with HSV II need to take special precautions upon delivery. If the virus is active at the time, a caesarean must be performed.
About 50 million people have it.
It's estimated that almost 70% of genital herpes cases are transmitted through asymptomatic shedding1.
One in five people and one in four women has Genital Herpes.
|1 Mertz GJ, Benedetti J, Ashley R et al. Risk factors for the sexual transmission of genital herpes. Ann Intern Med. 1992;116:197-202|
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