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Genital herpes
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Genital herpes

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WOMEN'S HEALTH

Sexually Transmitted Diseases

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Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Genital herpes is a highly contagious sexually transmitted disease. The cause is a strain of the herpes simplex virus (HSV). This virus enters your body through small breaks in your skin or mucous membranes.

The illness is characterized by pain, itching and sores in your genital area. Sexual contact is the primary way that genital HSV spreads. It's almost impossible to get the infection through contact with toilets, towels or other objects used by an infected person because the virus dies quickly outside the body.

Causes

Two types of herpes simplex virus infections can cause genital herpes. HSV type 1 (HSV-1) is the type that usually causes cold sores or fever blisters around your mouth, though it can be spread to your genital area during oral sex. HSV type 2 (HSV-2) is the type that commonly causes genital herpes. The virus spreads through sexual contact and skin-to-skin contact. HSV-2 is highly contagious if you have an open sore, but it's also possible to spread the virus even when you don't have an active sore. HSV-2 is extremely common. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 45 million Americans over the age of 12 have an HSV-2 infection, although in many people the infection is inactive or "silent" and causes no symptoms.

Screening and diagnosis

If you suspect you have genital herpes, see your doctor. Your doctor can diagnose herpes by taking a tissue scraping or culture of the blisters or early ulcers for examination in the laboratory. Because people with herpes may have at least one other sexually transmitted disease, your doctor will likely examine you for other sexually transmitted diseases. If you suspect that you previously had a herpes outbreak, a blood test can confirm it. A blood test can also let you know whether you have HSV-1 or HSV-2. However, if you have HSV-1, the blood test can't determine if the infection is oral or genital.

Genital herpes > 1 > 2 > 3 > 4

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Last Modified : 03/15/08 12:51 AM