Approximately 20 percent of American women are infected with the genital herpes virus. OB/GYN Dr. Jennifer Wu of Lenox Hill Hospital in New York explains what you need to know about identifying and coping with genital herpes.
I'm Denise Richardson for howdini.com. What do you really know about genital herpes? Do you understand what causes herpes, how to treat it, and how to avoid it?
Here to answer those questions and more is gynecologist, Dr. Jennifer Wu. Thank you so much for being with us. What is genital herpes?
Genital herpes is caused by herpes simplex virus. And patients that have genital herpes will often have outbreaks with blisters that then break open, that become tender ulcers. Some patients may have herpes but not have these outbreaks.
How widespread is herpes in America? I hear the statistics are startling.
Well, about one in five women and one in six men are infected with herpes simplex.
And getting worse?
No, actually getting better.
So, who is most commonly affected?
Young, reproductive age men and women. Actually, more women than men. Because there's an ease of transmission from male to female.
And can you be a carrier and not know it?
People have been infected and not had the outbreaks and unknowingly transmitted it to a partner.
Can genital herpes ever be cured?
It isn't curable with the medicines that we have today. But we do have medication to shorten outbreaks and help to lessen the severity of symptoms.
And so, it's reoccurring?
It can be. It can be. Some patients may never have an outbreak their entire life, even though they've been infected. Some patients may have one outbreak. And unfortunately, some patients may have several outbreaks.
And so, how do you treat it?
So for a first outbreak, patients will usually go to the doctor, and we'll give them oral medication and sometimes some topical creams to help ease the pain of the symptoms and to help shorten the duration of symptoms. If a patient has frequent outbreaks or very painful outbreaks, then we'll talk about suppression therapy, meaning a daily pill to help keep away those outbreaks and to help shorten the duration of outbreaks when they do occur.
And how long does it take for the blisters to heal and for them actually to go away?
It can take as long as two weeks before they completely heal and go away. During that time, patients should avoid sexual contact.
How is genital herpes transmitted?
It's usually by skin to skin contact, usually during sexual intercourse. We do know that one third of genital herpes is actually caused by herpes simplex type one, which is the type that's associated with cold sores or fever blisters. It's very common. And it can be transmitted through oral sex.
Unfortunately, patients can also shed virus occasionally when they're not having outbreak, or right before an outbreak. And they can thus infect their partners that way.
When it comes to genital herpes, are there gradations of the disease from the simplest form to the most difficult?
Patients may be tested at some point or another in their life, just when they're having an STD work up and find out they're infected, but they've never had an outbreak.
Other patients may have one outbreak that they seek treatment for it, and then they never see another outbreak their entire life. Unfortunately, the large majority of patients will have a few outbreaks, and they'll be quite painful. They involve blisters that open up to be tender sores.
Are they most likely to have it reoccurring in that way for the rest of their lives, or for just periods in their lives?
Usually, the first year is the worst, when you have the most frequent number of outbreaks. And then, the outbreaks tend to decrease with severity and in the number of outbreaks as you progress.
For the majority of women who have genital herpes, what can happen?
Well, actually the most serious consequences are probably when the woman is pregnant. Because if she gets an infection with herpes during pregnancy, she could transmit it to her baby. Usually, when women have an outbreak in the genital region during labor, we advise them to have a C-section because that'll be safer and help to decrease transmission to the infant.
And the infant, if it's born and has genital herpes, what would the impact be on that infant?
It can be very serious. They can get a meningitis. They can get a really serious infection from it.
Dr. Wu, thank you so much for being with us. I'm Denise Richardson for howdini.com.
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