Herpes Misconceptions: "Only YOU Can Prevent Outbreaks"
I’m always amazed at the amount of misinformation, or lack of information, that people have about Herpes. Often when I tell a new partner that I have Herpes his response is a simple “I know nothing about that, so it doesn’t really bother me”. I also hear contrasting information from doctors. For example, just a couple weeks ago, a friend told me she was concerned that she may have picked up an STD from a casual fling. Her doctor gave her tests for everything but Herpes, saying that the Herpes test was too expensive to do and that if my friend did, in fact, have the disease she would surely already know. I was suprised by the doctor’s decision given the statistics about the number of people who have the disease but don’t show symptoms.
I told my friend about my first six months with the disease in which I had a light rash above my butt. It was so insignificant that I tried to make an appointment with my dermatologist, thinking it was just an allergic reaction. When I couldn’t quickly make an appointment with my dermatologist, I decided to go see my gynecologist who took one look and declared it Herpes, confirming with a blood test. Before I saw my gyno the thought of Herpes, or any STD, never even crossed my mind. As the years have passed my Herpes outbreaks have exhibited a wide range of symptoms over anything included in my “bikini area”. I explained this to my friend, and told her the only way to be sure she doesn’t have Herpes is to get a blood test…but she still hasn’t. (Ironically she continued to tell me what a great clinic it was and that I should go there if necessary. Was she even listening to me??)
Unfortunately I meet many people with this same crazy idea that, if they had Herpes, they would know, or that their symptoms would by X,Y and Z. This is not so. Everyone is different and, just as there is no formula for getting the disease, there is also no formula for understanding the symptoms or dealing with outbreaks.
Most disappointing to me was the way my gynecologist simplified the severity of the virus. I was told that I should do suppressive therapy for the first year, and that afterwards my outbreaks would be few and far between. My greatest obstacle would be telling potential boyfriends about it, but the disease itself would be elusive. “Keep taking your pills and eventually the outbreaks will go away.” That’s what they want you to think.
But I know that in my experience, and in the experience of many others, it’s not that simple. While I imagined my recurring outbreaks would go away soon after my year of suppressive therapy, I found fellow sufferers who complained about having constant outbreaks, just like me, for several years. While initially I took comfort in hearing that I wasn’t alone, I was also hit with the dark realization that my battle with Herpes might be tougher than I was first led to believe. In fact, I’m convinced that the virus is building resistance to the only medicine I can afford to take, Acyclovir. The outbreaks just aren’t going away as quickly and painlessly as they did in the past. Sometimes I’m on meds twice as long as I used to be just to get rid of one outbreak. Due to monetary and mostly moral concerns, I refuse to use pharmaceuticals for suppressive therapy anymore. I’m still exploring the world of alternative medicine, which will be discussed in a future blog.
I’m not trying to scare you or give you a sense of hopelessness, I’m just trying be honest about the nature of this disease which can manifest itself in different ways and be very stubborn. If you have any doubt that you have the disease, and you’ve never been tested, please get yourself to the nearest clinic for a test. If you know you have Herpes and you’re okay with taking pharmaceuticals all the time, then great. The drug industry will love you for it. If you’re like me and you’re disgusted at the for-profit nature of the health industry, or your tired of depending on an anti-virus, then you may need a more comprehensive approach to dealing with the virus. This approach requires dedication to developing a healthy lifestyle over time as opposed to a quick fix. (Don’t get me wrong. As I alluded to earlier, I still take Acyclovir to combat full-blown outbreaks.) The choice is yours. Don’t let the media, your friends, one doctor’s opinion, or my opinion tell you what to do. Only you know what feels right for you and your body. Maintaining an open, and simultaneously critical, mind will guide you on your herpeledelic journey.
Penelope wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Sexual Health.