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Genital Herpes

Genital Herpes

What is it?

Herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types of HSV. Type 1 is usually found around the mouth and is commonly known as a cold sore. Type 2 is usually found around the genital or anal areas. It is now common for herpes type 1 and 2 to be found on the genitals.

How do you get it?

The virus requires skin-to-skin contact to be spread from:

  • person to person by direct contact with a sore
  • mouth to mouth—cold sore (oral herpes)
  • mouth to genitals—cold sore
  • genital to mouth—genital herpes
  • genital to genital
  • mother to baby (via contact in the birth canal)

It can be spread even when there are no symptoms. A first outbreak usually takes between 2-12 days after contact with an infected person, but sometimes symptoms may not occur until months or years later.

Signs and symptoms

At the site of infection there can be:

  • an itching or tingling feeling
  • an outbreak of blisters that later form scabs.

Flu like symptoms can be present, especially with the first outbreak.

Herpes is infectious from the first tingling sensation until the blisters completely disappear. The pattern of outbreaks varies from person to person. Many people never have symptoms, some have one outbreak only and others have intermittent outbreaks.

Many people are infected with genital herpes but do not know it because they never get symptoms. But they may still pass on the virus during sex.

Asymptomatic viral shedding occurs in between outbreaks in people who know they have herpes and also from time to time in people who don’t know they have herpes and who never get symptoms.

Treatment

If you suspect you have herpes, visit a doctor as soon as possible so that a swab can be taken. Antiviral medication can prevent or reduce the severity of outbreaks. If taken with the first outbreak it can reduce the chances of recurrent outbreaks.

Prevention

Although condoms reduce the risk of catching or transmitting herpes, there is always a small occupational risk of herpes for sex workers or any sexually active person, because condoms do not cover all the genital skin.

If your client has an outbreak of genital herpes, offer him/her a different service like hand relief. To protect you further, latex gloves can be worn so you don’t have direct contact with the sore when you are checking a client. Pull the foreskin back on the penis and have a good look around.

A healthy diet, rest, exercise and stress management may help reduce recurrences of herpes. Times of recurrence vary from person to person. Recurrences may become less frequent and in time may stop altogether.