Accent on Health Obgyn, PC HERPES Frequently Asked Questions

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1 1. What is herpes? 2. How common is herpes? 3. Is there a cure for herpes? 4. What is oral herpes (cold sores)? 5. How is oral herpes spread? 6. What is genital herpes? 7. How is genital herpes spread? 8. What are the symptoms of oral herpes? 9. What is the treatment for oral herpes? 10. What are the symptoms of genital herpes? 11. What is the treatment for genital herpes? 12. How do I know for sure if I have genital herpes? 13. Can genital herpes cause other problems? 14. Who is most susceptible to genital herpes? 15. Can I spread herpes even when I am not having an outbreak? 16. If I have genital herpes, am I at risk of contracting another sexually transmitted infection? 17. How can my partner find out if he or she has genital herpes? 18. If I am pregnant and have genital herpes, will I pass it on to my baby? 19. Does Herpes cause cancer of the cervix? Sources US department of Health & Human services Herpesonline.org Last revised 03/31/2010 Page 1 of 5

2 1. What is herpes? Herpes is a general term for two different infecrtions: one that affects the area around the mouth (oral herpes, also known as cold sores) and another that affects the area around the genitals (genital herpes). Viruses (HSV- 1 & HSV-2) cause both of these diseases. While HSV-1 and HSV-2 are different viruses, they look very much the same and are treated similarly. Herpes cannot be cured. Once someone is infected with either virus, it cannot be cleared from the human body. Both HSV-1 and HSV-2 live in nerve cells, usually under the skin. Neither virus is always active. They often remain silent or inactive in these cells, sometimes for many years or even a lifetime. For reasons not entirely understood by researchers, the viruses can become active and cause symptoms, which include sores around the mouth or near the genitals. These symptoms can come and go in what is known as outbreaks, or flareups. During a flare-up, the virus becomes active and causes a chain of events leading to a cluster of small bumps to form. The bumps may rupture, heal, and then disappear for an indefinite period of time. Anybody infected with either virus can experience flare-ups. In people who have healthy immune systems, a herpes flare-up usually lasts a few weeks. In people with compromised immune systems, including people with HIV and AIDS, the herpes sores can last longer than a month. 2. How common is herpes? Most Americans have herpes, either as genital herpes, or as cold sores. The main difference is site of preference and social acceptance. Up to 80 percent of Americans have the most common form of herpes (HSV-1) outbreak at some time. It usually appears as oral herpes and is most often spread without sexual contact. Genital herpes infection is more common in women than men. About 1 in 4 women have HSV-2 infection compared to almost 1 in 8 men. This is due to the fact that women can get genital herpes and some other Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) more easily than men. 3. Is there a cure for herpes? There is no cure for oral or genital herpes. Once one is infected, the virus stays in the body forever. Usually the virus is inactive, which means it is staying in certain cells in the body and not causing symptoms. 4. What is oral herpes (cold sores)? Oral herpes is an infection caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) or type 2 (HSV-2). However, most oral herpes is caused by HSV-1. The virus causes sores or blisters on lips, gums, tongue, roof of the mouth, and inside the cheeks. Cold sores are annoying but harmless in children and adults. But cold sores are harmful to a newborn. Oral herpes in adults is usually a flare-up of a childhood infection. Once one is infected, the virus stays in the body forever. Usually the virus is inactive, which means it is staying in certain cells in the body and not causing symptoms. However, the virus may become active and cause sores again. Future outbreaks may be caused by extreme weather changes, exposure to sunlight or UV light, physical or emotional stress, fatigue, hormonal changes, immune system deficiency. 5. How is oral herpes spread? Most people get their first cold sore when they are children, usually by receiving a kiss from a friend or a relative. Sharing utensils and cups also spreads the virus. Cold sores do not have to be visible to be spread to others. In fact, any contact with the infected area can spread the virus. Last revised 03/31/2010 Page 2 of 5

3 6. What is genital herpes? Genital herpes is an infection caused by the herpes simplex viruses type 1 (HSV-1) or type 2 (HSV-2). However, most genital herpes is caused by HSV-2. Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Once one is infected, the virus stays in the body forever. Usually the virus is inactive, which means it is staying in certain cells in the body and not causing symptoms. However, the virus may become active and cause sores again. 7. How is genital herpes spread? Genital herpes is spread through genital-genital contact or genital-oral contact with someone who has herpes infection. The virus is most easily spread through contact with open sores. But one can get the virus from skin that does not appear to have a sore. You can become infected with the herpes virus without having intercourse. 8. What are the symptoms of oral herpes? Cold sores or fever blisters usually show up on the lips or inside the mouth. They are common in young children. The first symptoms of cold sores may include pain around your mouth and on your lips, a fever, a sore throat, or swollen glands in your neck or other parts of the body. Small children sometimes drool before cold sores appear. After the blisters appear, the cold sores usually break open, leak a clear fluid, and then crust over and disappear after several days to 2 weeks. 9. What is the treatment for oral herpes? Many over the counter (OTC) products are available for cold sores. But none of these products are antiviral medications that block replication of the virus. Since cold sores are caused by a virus you should consider an antiviral treatment. Consult your physician for the appropriate medication. 10. What are the symptoms of genital herpes? The symptoms of genital herpes vary from person to person. Most people with genital herpes are not aware they are infected. When symptoms do occur, they usually appear as one or more blisters on or around the genitals or rectum. The blisters break, leaving tender sores that may take up to 4 weeks to heal. Another outbreak can appear weeks or months later. But it almost always is less severe and shorter than the first outbreak. Although the infection can stay in the body forever, the outbreaks tend to become less severe and occur less often over time. You can pass genital herpes to someone else even when you have no symptoms. The first outbreak usually happens within 2 weeks of having sexual contact with an infected person, and symptoms can last from 2 to 3 weeks. Early symptoms of the first outbreak can include: Itching or burning feeling in the genital or anal area Flu-like symptoms, including fever Swollen glands Pain in the legs, buttocks, or genital area Vaginal discharge A feeling of pressure in the area below the stomach Last revised 03/31/2010 Page 3 of 5

4 Within a few days, sores show up where the virus has entered the body, such as on the mouth, penis, or vagina. Sores can also show up on a woman s cervix or in the urinary passage in men. The sores are small red bumps that may turn into blisters or painful open sores. Over a period of days, the sores become crusted and then heal without scarring. Sometimes with the first outbreak, a second crop of sores appear and flu-like symptoms occur again. The symptoms of later episodes are usually less severe than the first. 11. What is the treatment for genital herpes? Genital herpes cannot be cured; once infected, the virus will always remain in the body. But antiviral drugs can shorten outbreaks and make them less severe, or stop them from happening. Depending on your needs, your doctor can give you drugs to take right after getting outbreak symptoms or drugs to take on a regular basis to try to stop outbreaks from happening. Talk to your doctor about treatment options. During outbreaks, these steps can speed healing and help keep the infection from spreading to other sites of the body or to other people: Keep the infected area clean and dry. Try not to touch the sores. Wash hands after contact. Avoid sexual contact from the time you first notice symptoms until the sores have healed. 12. How do I know for sure if I have genital herpes? Doctors can diagnose genital herpes by looking at visible sores if the outbreak is typical and by taking a sample from the sore for testing in a lab. Some cases of herpes are harder to diagnose, especially between outbreaks. Blood tests that look for antibodies to HSV-1 or HSV-2 can help to detect herpes infection in people without symptoms or between outbreaks. 13. Can genital herpes cause other problems? Genital herpes infection usually does not cause serious health problems in healthy adults. People whose immune system does not work properly, such as people with HIV, can have severe outbreaks that are longlasting. Sometimes, people with normal immune systems can get herpes infection in the eye. But this is less common with HSV-2 infection. Herpes may play a role in the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Herpes sores can make it easier for HIV to get into your body. Also, herpes can make people who are HIV-positive more infectious. Living with herpes can be hard to cope with even if you have no symptoms. At first, you might feel embarrassed or ashamed. You might worry whether having herpes will affect your relationship with your sexual partner or keep you from having meaningful relationships in the future. Keep in mind that millions of people have herpes. And not unlike many other health issues, treatment can help you manage the infection. After a little time, most people with herpes are able to adjust to the diagnosis and move on. 14. Who is most susceptible to genital herpes? Anyone who has sex; this includes vaginal, oral, or anal contact. But most people with genital herpes never recognize the signs of infection. So there are lots of people who have herpes and don t even know it. Last revised 03/31/2010 Page 4 of 5

5 15. Can I spread herpes even when I am not having an outbreak? Yes. The genital herpes virus can still be spread through the skin although there are no visible signs of an outbreak. This is called asymptomatic viral shedding. Up to 70% of people catch genital herpes from an infected partner who has no signs or symptoms. And since the symptoms are not always obvious, nine out of ten people who have genital herpes don t even know they re having an outbreak. 16. If I have genital herpes, am I at risk of contracting another sexually transmitted infection? Studies suggest that being infected with genital herpes may increase the likelihood of contracting other STDs while open sores are present. You and your partner should get tested for all types of STDs and continue practicing safe sex. 17. How can my partner find out if he or she has genital herpes? You should be open to the possibility that your partner may also have Genital Herpes. Nearly 85% of people who are infected with HSV-2 are unaware, because symptoms can be so subtle. Try to encourage your partner to speak to his or her healthcare provider. It s far better to know what you re dealing with so you can reduce the risk of spreading the herpes virus to others. 18. If I am pregnant and have genital herpes, will I pass it on to my baby? Yes. If the mother is having her first outbreak near the time of delivery, she is much more likely to pass the virus to her baby. If the outbreak is not the first one, the baby's risk of getting the virus is very low. Babies born with herpes may be premature or may die, or they may have brain damage, severe rashes, or eye problems. Doctors may do a cesarean delivery if the mother has herpes sores near the birth canal to lower the risk of passing the virus. Fortunately, most women with genital herpes have healthy babies. Also, medicines can help babies born with herpes if they are treated right away. It is not yet known if all genital herpes drugs are safe for pregnant women to take. Let your doctor know if you have genital herpes, even if you are not having an outbreak. He or she will help you manage it safely during pregnancy. Women with genital herpes can have healthy babies. However, it is possible, if you become infected during pregnancy or you have an outbreak at the time of delivery, to transmit the infection to your baby. Therefore, it is particularly important to take appropriate precautions to prevent becoming infected during pregnancy, particularly if your partner has genital herpes and you don t. It is strongly recommended that pregnant women who suspect that they may have genital herpes discuss this with their doctor or healthcare provider because there are precautions that can be taken to help protect the baby from infection. 19. Does herpes cause cancer of the cervix? No. Cervical cancer is associated with certain types of human papilloma viruses but not the ones that cause genital warts. Pap tests can detect very early precancerous changes in the cervix. All women should have a Pap test at least once a year. Last revised 03/31/2010 Page 5 of 5

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