How to Prevent Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Preventing Genital Herpes

Genital herpes can be spread through sexual intercourse.
Genital herpes can be spread through sexual intercourse.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

After the primary episode of genital herpes, symptoms may be so mild they go unnoticed. It's important to know what to look out for and how to prevent the spread of genital herpes. Learn more here.

Genital Herpes Basics

Genital herpes is primarily an infection of herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) can also cause genital herpes, but this is not as common.

The virus that causes genital herpes is spread through sexual contact and enters the body through small openings in the skin or mucous membranes. The virus doesn't survive for very long once it's outside the body, so it's highly unlikely you can get infected by touching a toilet seat or other common surface.

The first (primary) episode of genital herpes triggers pain and itching on the skin around the genital area, internally, and sometimes on the buttocks. Soon after, red bumps form and then develop into leaking blisters. Some people with genital herpes have flulike symptoms, including fever. Although the sores typically heal on their own within a month, the virus lurks in the body until it reactivates to cause future (although less severe) outbreaks.

Genital herpes may not cause any symptoms, or the signs might be so mild they're unnoticed. The primary outbreak usually occurs about two weeks after the virus is transmitted.

Treatment during primary infection with genital herpes will decrease the recovery time but does not change the possibility of reactivation. HSV-1, if occurring genitally, is much less likely to cause reactivations than is HSV-2.

The virus can be passed to someone else during any type of sex, including oral. Although cases are rare, newborns are at risk for contracting genital herpes during vaginal delivery if the mother has an active infection at the time of the birth. This can cause blindness, meningitis, seizures, brain damage, and even death in the baby.

Genital herpes can be treated with antiviral, suppressive medications to shorten and prevent outbreaks. These medications can also reduce, but not eliminate, the risk of transmission during sex. There is no cure for genital herpes.

Who's at Risk for Genital Herpes

Anyone who has sex with an infected person is at risk for contracting genital herpes, but women have a slightly higher risk because the disease is easier to pass from men to women than from women to men.

Defensive Measures Against Genital Herpes

Abstaining from sex is the most effective way to prevent genital herpes. If you are sexually active, having a long-term, monogamous partner who is uninfected is best. Using latex condoms can help prevent genital herpes.

All pregnant women should be screened for genital herpes in order to prevent its transmission to babies during childbirth. It is also recommended that women receive an annual Papanicolaou (Pap) smear to check for this and other infections.

Anyone who is sexually active is susceptible to gonorrhea. Learn how to prevent this STD on the next page.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.