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Genital Herpes Fact Sheet (Herpes)
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Genital Herpes Fact Sheet

Stuart Maddin, MD, FRCPC

There is a lot of social stigma associated with genital herpes, as well as myths that can be harmful. Below are some important facts about genital herpes.

Genital Herpes does not destroy your life

  • Genital herpes is extremely common, affecting 1 in 5 adults.
  • Genital herpes is not something to be ashamed about.
  • Outbreaks and recurrences of herpes can be controlled by the use of drugs. Zovirax®, Famvir®, or Valtrex® all reduce recurrence, and control recurrent symptoms.
  • Seek a doctor if you suspect that you may have contracted genital herpes. They will be properly trained to answer your questions and address your concerns.
  • Genital herpes is transmitted through sexual intercourse, including oral sex. The virus transmits through skin contact, usually via the penis, vagina, or the anus.
  • Genital herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus. HSV 2 is usually the cause of genital herpes, while HSV 1 is the cause of cold sores.
  • 22% of all people over the age of 12 in the US were infected with HSV-2 in 1994.

Genital herpes is often asymptomatic

  • Most people who are infected with HSV 2 do not show symptoms, or do not notice the symptoms, and are unaware that they have the virus.
  • Only a third of infected people show symptoms, such as blisters, fever, headache, genital pain or discharge.
  • Genital herpes can be diagnosed by a doctor, even if you show no symptoms through antibody tests.

There is no cure for the virus, although the symptoms can be treated

  • The herpes simplex virus migrate from the genitals to the central nervous system, and remain there latent until recurrence
  • When the virus recurs, it travels down the veins to the genitals, showing symptoms such as blisters, itching, tenderness and redness
  • At this time, there is no known cure that eliminates the virus from your system

Genital herpes can be transmitted to your partner even if you do not show the symptoms

  • The herpes simplex virus can be active around the genital regions, even if the outward symptoms such as blisters are not present.
  • Transmission through virus activity is called asymptomatic shedding, and is often responsible for unknowingly passing on the virus.
  • People with a history of genital herpes should always use condoms.

Genital herpes can be transmitted from a mother who acquires the virus late during pregnancy to their baby

  • Pregnant women who become infected with HSV 2 during the last third of their pregnancies risk a low chance of passing the virus to their babies.
  • HSV-2 infection in newborn babies is known as neonatal herpes, and is considered a serious disease.
  • The risk of transmission to the baby is very small for mothers who have had genital herpes for an extended period of time.
  • Mothers whose genital herpes are active during delivery are often offered a Caesarean section to  reduce the risk of neonatal herpes.


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