Genital Herpes Prevention

Published 10/23/06


Here how to protect yourself and your partner from this intimate invader.


Herpes. It' a word that's easy to say, but difficult to talk about. It's one of the most common infectious diseases, affecting up to 60 million Americans. Herpes is spread by intimate body contact. It's part of the same virus family as Chicken Pox and Shingles. Once you've got it, it's with you for life. Here's how to protect yourself, and your partner from this intimate invader. Herpes, in the vast majority of people, is a silent condition. Susan Martin could be your neighbor, sister, friend, or co- worker. And like one in five people, she has Herpes. About only thing that people know about herpes is herpes is forever. Susan contracted the virus almost 20 years ago from a sexual partner. I actually went to the doctor with Strep throat and then, while I was there, said, "Oh, by the way Doctor, you know, what to take a look at this other thing too?" Genital herpes is spread by skin to skin contact, usually through sexual intercourse or oral sex. It's an equal opportunity virus. It doesn't care if you're rich, poor, educated, or employed. Any warm body will do. There are two different types of herpes. There's type one, which we generally think of as cold sores, and type two which is genital herpes. Herpes comes from the Greek word herpein, which means "to creep" or "to crawl". And just like this herpein, the virus can creep out of dormancy and become contagious. They may run a fever, and then get this pain, stinging, blisters, and then the ulcers in the genital area. Speaker 3: Let's check your heart. Susan's lucky. She had symptoms. Nearly 85% of people who carry the virus don't even know they have it. Speaker 3: There are a lot of people who have actually had herpes, without ever having an outbreak of blister, without having any pain. S And sometimes mild symptoms can be mistaken for something else, like a yeast infection, jock itch, or even ingrown hairs. In my experience the biggest misconception is that if you don't have a sore you can't transmit. Almost 70% of Herpes cases are spread without any symptoms. A simple blood test can tell if you carry the virus. I think that those of us who are diagnosed with it are actually safer, because we are aware of our symptoms and are on the medication or taking other precautions. Anti-viral medications can help manage the condition. They can be taken during an outbreak to heal symptoms faster, or used every day to suppress the virus. When you use it in the suppressive nature, it especially comes in handy for that couple that is trying to have a family, and yet one partner has not been infected. And it's a better approach for those who have recurring outbreaks. Doctor Thomas Hinaman says that's important, because people with herpes are at a higher risk for getting, and transmitting HIV. Presumably because it's easier to transmit the virus in that setting. Rachel Hecocks doesn't have herpes, and she wants to keep it that way. She's part of a clinical trial to test a Herpes vaccine for women. I think it would just give you the peace of mind that you won't contract something that cannot be cured, and that you could spread to others. So you are left-handed? The vaccine is being given to women who have never been exposed to either type 1 or type 2 Herpes. So far, the results are promising. There is a 75% protection against herpes disease in women who receive the vaccine, compared to those who didn't. The vaccine will not cure herpes, for those already infected. But, if successful, it could be given to girls before they become sexually active, and prevent them from getting the disease. This vaccine may prove to be the first vaccine of any sort to prevent a sexually transmitted disease. But for millions like Susan, who have the virus, the best advice is to practice safe sex. Don't have sex during an outbreak, take an anti-viral, and tell your partner. No one has ever broken up with me because of it. No one has ever not wanted to see me because of it. Susan hopes by telling her story, more people will understand that herpes is a common condition, and nothing to be ashamed of. And I have chosen to live in the state of happiness, and I'm not going to let a little virus, whether it's north of the waist or south of the waist, cause me to move. The initial herpes infection is usually the worst. Recurring outbreaks aren't as severe because the body has developed some immunity. For most people, recurrences lessen as time goes on.

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