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Herpes Advocacy Sheet

By EmpowHER

The herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2),or genital herpes is most common in women who are infected by a male partner. Herpes (type 1 and 2) affects around 45 million people in the U.S. It is estimated that many women with herpes are not aware of it because they do not experience symptoms.

When symptoms do occur, a person may experience a fever, headache, or flu-like feeling. Herpes can be spread through any sexual contact (intercourse, mouth-to-genital contact, mouth-to-mouth contact, or from mother to baby in pregnancy).  It is diagnosed by visual inspection of a health care provider who may also sample fluid from a sore and have it tested. A blood test can also diagnose herpes between outbreaks.

Questions to ask your doctor may include:

  • How is herpes treated? There is no cure for herpes. Many doctors prescribe oral suppressive therapy to prevent frequent recurrences and to reduce the length of an outbreak. There are also topical treatments that could be used. Those experiencing more than six outbreaks a year may be put on additional medication. Antiviral medication could be prescribed,  and but must be taken within 24 hours the first signs of an impending outbreak (tingling, itching).
  • What is an outbreak and how often do outbreaks occur? Outbreaks can occur as early as a few days after initial infection. An outbreak can begin with a tingling or itching sensation in the sexually exposed area of the skin, followed by redness. Multiple painful blisters then appear and can last from seven days to two weeks. When blisters are present, herpes is definitely contagious until completely healed. However, transmission can also occur when not experiencing an outbreak. After an initial outbreak, subsequent outbreaks can happen weeks or months later, several times a year, or rarely.
  • Do I need to tell my sexual partner(s)? It is important to inform partners to avoid further spread of the condition.
  • How can I prohibit getting herpes or other STDs? Always practice safe sex, and use a condom every time to help reduce the chance of spreading infection. Be sure to exercise particular caution if engaging in sexual activity with a partner known to have herpes, and when they are experiencing an outbreak.
  • Should I abstain from sexual activity during treatment, and for how long? It may be a good idea to refrain from all sexual contact (even kissing) when an outbreak is present.
  • Is there any printed material I can look at, or web sites I can review for more information?'
  • What are the long term risks of herpes? Outbreaks may be uncomfortable, and make it easier to contract other STDs, based on having a suppressed immune system. Those with herpes may also experience depression or other emotional distress following diagnosis.

Resources –
www.medicinenet.com Genital Herpes in Women
www.cdc.gov Herpes

Check out EmpowHER’s page on Sexually Transmitted Diseases for more information.

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