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Genital herpes is one of the most common viral sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in the world but it is rarely dangerous compared with other STDs. In 1994, 173 cases of genital herpes were reported in Ireland; in 1997, this figure had risen to 211.
Genital herpes is caused by herpes simplex type two (HSV-2). HSV-1 usually causes cold sores or lesions in the mouth or on the lips and face. Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease that produces painful blisters on the genitals of both men and women.
The infection can be passed during sexual intercourse or by other intimate contact with the genitals, mouth, or rectal area. You may also spread it with your hands if they become contaminated. Once you're infected, the virus remains in your body for the rest of your life. Usually it is inactive, which means that it is not causing symptoms. However, the virus may become active again and the disease may recur. Outbreaks may occur in times of physical or emotional stress or trauma.
Symptoms of genital herpes usually begin within a couple of weeks following infection, but symptoms may also appear later or not at all some people infected with herpes have no symptoms. The signs of infection vary but may include:
The first outbreak of herpes usually lasts 710 days, although it can continue for a few weeks. During this time the lesions will shrink and dry up.
Your doctor may be able diagnose herpes on the basis of your history and examination of the lesion. He/she may also take a sample of the lesion or the liquid from the lesion and have it tested for the herpes virus.
Some hospitals also perform a blood test for herpes antibodies. However, a blood test will not tell you whether you have an active outbreak or which herpes virus you have been infected with.
Genital herpes cannot be cured, but the earlier the treatment is given the more likely it is to prevent or reduce the severity of an attack. Antiviral drugs will help to reduce the pain of the lesions and encourage faster healing. Analgesic drugs (painkillers) may also help to soothe the discomfort.
Once the virus enters your body, it stays there for rest of your life. Some people never have another attack after the first and others suffer several attacks every year, although the severity of the attacks will lessen gradually and the periods between recurrences will grow longer. About half of those who have a first episode never have a recurrence.
Those who have very frequent recurrences may be advised to take long-term low-dose anti-viral medications to reduce the frequency of recurrences.
If a pregnant woman has an attack of genital herpes when the baby is due, a caesarean section may be recommended to prevent the baby being infected during delivery.
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