Introduction

Herpes is an infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). The infection is contracted through contact with other persons who have HSV. Herpes may be present in herpes lesions, mucosal surfaces, genital secretions or oral secretions. HSV I and HSV II can be shed from normal appearing oral or genital mucosa and skin cells. In most cases genital herpes is contracted by genital to genital contact with someone who has genital herpes. However, during oral sex HSV I can be spread from genitals to oral mucosa. Transmission most often occurs from contact with an infected partner who does not have visible lesions and often times is unaware that they are infected.

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms of herpes are referred to as outbreaks. Blisters called vesicles erupt on the skin, usually near the site the infection occurred. The blisters are fluid filled initially and begin to dry out after a couple of days. An initial outbreak can last for 2-4 weeks. Subsequent outbreaks are usually shorter, lasting 7-10 days. There may be one or many blisters. Outbreaks may occur several times in the first year after infection, but will typically become less frequent as time goes on, especially if properly treated.

Prevention

There are many ways to reduce the risk of contracting genital herpes, but abstinence is the only was to prevent getting HSV.  Honesty with partners is essential. Talk about sexual history and get tested on a regular basis or if symptoms are present. Here is a list of the best ways to prevent genital herpes as well as other sexually transmitted infections (STI):

  • Abstinence – abstinence is a choice to not have sexual contact with another person. This includes vaginal, anal, oral and touching.  Abstinence is the only way to absolutely prevent genital herpes or any other STI.

  • Selective abstinence – a person may choose to be sexually active but limit the type of sexual activity in order to reduce the risk of contracting STIs. A person’s risk may be greatly reduced by choosing this method but it is not one hundred percent effective.

  • Communication – talking with a partner about sexual health builds trust and respect among partners. When a couple shares trust and respect they are much less likely to have other partners secretively.

  • Monogamy – having just one sexual partner at a time greatly reduces one’s risk for STIs.

  • Get tested – prior to having sex with a new partner each person should be tested. This is the only way to know if each  are clear of STI’s.

  • Barrier Methods – these include condoms and female condoms. These can be very effective when used correctly. Reading instructions on the box is recommended.

  • Avoid drugs and alcohol – drugs and alcohol lead to poor decision making and failure to use preventative techniques.

  • Avoid sharing towels or underclothing.

  • Wash before and after intercourse.

  • Get vaccinated – HSV and Hepatitis B vaccines are both available.

 

To prevent getting a sexually transmitted infection, always abstain from sex with someone who has a rash or sore, discharge or any other symptom.

The only time unprotected sex is safe sex is when both tested negative for STI’s and have only had sex with each other for longer than six months.

 

References:

Genital herpes. (2017). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000857.htm

P. Sen, S.E. Barton. (2007). Genital herpes and its management. BMJ, 334(7602), 1048-1052. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1871807/.

STD Prevention. Retrieved from http://www.healthline.com/health/sexually-transmitted-diseases/safe-sex.