10 Things You Need To Know About Living with Genital Herpes
Genital herpes is often depicted — incorrectly — as a rare and embarrassing disease that you can't manage or treat.
But the truth is, one in every six U.S. adults ages 14 to 49 has genital herpes, and all of them have the means to keep their condition under control. Thanks to antiviral medications and other breakthrough treatments, genital herpes doesn't have to define you or your relationships.
The following ten tips will help you live a full and satisfying life, yes, even with genital herpes.
Before worrying about how to live your life with genital herpes, get tested to confirm the herpes simplex virus (HSV) as the cause of your symptoms. A blood test is the most accurate and least expensive means of diagnosis.
Keep in mind that the herpes virus doesn't always trigger outbreaks and symptoms, so testing is an important way to monitor your health. The CDC recommends testing if you're experiencing symptoms that could be related to herpes or if you recently had sex with a new partner who has genital herpes.
A few different kinds of tests can detect herpes:
- Tissue or herpes sore sample
- Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to test for the presence of herpes DNA
- Tzanck smear test to find any active herpes virus on your genitals
- Blood test to detect the presence of HSV antibodies
HSV tests can detect the virus even if you don't have any symptoms, so you don't need to wait for an outbreak to get tested.
Educate Yourself About the Myths
Myths about herpes are rampant, so it's important to educate yourself about the herpes simplex virus and separate fact from fiction.
Myth: You Always Get a Herpes Outbreak Soon After Becoming Infected
Herpes is a sneaky infection. It can exist in the body for months or even years without showing symptoms, but it's still contagious nonetheless.
If you do develop an outbreak, it will most likely happen two to 12 days after initial exposure to the virus. After the blisters break, they can take up to four weeks to heal.
Fortunately, subsequent outbreaks tend to be less intense. Recurring outbreaks are common but don't last nearly as long. These sores tend to heal within three to seven days, and the number of outbreak periods may even decrease over time.
Myth: If You Get a Cold Sore, You Have Genital Herpes
Cold sores and genital herpes are two distinct strains of the herpes simplex virus. Many people get cold sores, but that doesn't mean they have an STD.
Herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) is the form of herpes categorized as a sexually transmitted infection (STI), and is the main cause of genital herpes. It doesn't usually cause cold sores, which are caused by HSV-1. There is no cure for HSV-2, so it's a lifelong disease.
Myth: A Condom Protects 100% Against Genital Herpes
The herpes virus is always active in your body, even when no sores are present.
Wearing a condom is an important preventative measure if you or your partner has herpes, but it doesn't guarantee complete protection. The herpes virus lives both inside and outside the area a condom covers, so it can still spread from one person to another.
If you're concerned about contracting or transmitting herpes, don't have sex if you or your partner has an active herpes outbreak. The virus is more likely to spread when active sores and ulcers exist. It's also important that the infected person regularly take antiviral medicine to keep their infection under control.
Remember: The Stigma Is Out of Proportion
The stigma surrounding genital herpes is far more intense than the infection deserves. Genital herpes has been around for millennia, and HSV-2 is the most common STI in the United States. In fact, according to the WHO, genital herpes affects over 400 million people worldwide.
The genital herpes stigma prevails largely because people don't understand it. Many assume they can catch genital herpes from a toilet seat or other common surfaces. They aren't educated about how HSV-2 spreads or affects the body. Others don't know that genital herpes remains dormant for months or years at a time, allowing those infected with the herpes virus to live completely normal lives.
Overall, genital herpes can be a highly manageable condition, with few physical side effects and no fatalities to date. In fact, you may not even notice the virus at all if your outbreaks are infrequent or mild. Some people find that they don't experience symptoms until years after their first outbreak!
Be Open with Your Partner Before Sex
If you have a confirmed or suspected HSV-2 infection, it's important to make sure your partner is informed before becoming sexually active.
Condoms can help keep the virus from spreading, but they don't prevent all types of transmission. In fact, the transmission of HSV-2 via oral sex is possible even if there are no sores present on the genitals or mouth.
Though it's impossible to completely eliminate the chances of transmission, prevention techniques are very effective. For example, one large study reported that only 1.9% of susceptible partners became infected with clinically symptomatic HSV-2 when given the antiviral valacyclovir as a precautionary treatment.
It's essential to be open and honest with your partner. By improving communication, educating yourselves, and managing expectations, you can better reduce the risk of spreading a genital herpes infection to your partner.
Don't Have Sex During an Active Outbreak
You can also limit the risk of transmission by refraining from intimate contact until a herpes outbreak clears and heals completely. The virus is highly contagious for your partner from the time you begin to feel the sensation of developing sores until your outbreak has completely scabbed and healed.
Follow Easy Hygiene Best Practices
Several hygiene best practices serve as easy preventative measures to avoid accidentally spreading the virus to your partner.
- Keep the infected area clean and dry
- Avoid touching sores
- Wash your hands immediately after any possible contact with sores
- DON'T pick at sores since this will cause infection
- DON'T make choices that you know can trigger an outbreak
Learn How To Manage Outbreaks
While there's no cure for genital herpes, a lot that can be done to reduce the length and severity of outbreaks.
A number of proven medications speed up the healing process and reduce discomfort. Antiviral medications like acyclovir and valacyclovir offer a simple way to control and minimize herpes outbreaks.
Start taking acyclovir as soon as you notice the first signs of an emerging outbreak. This medication stops the herpes virus from growing and spreading during an outbreak, though it can't remove the virus from your body completely. Most people experience relief within just a few days.
Improving lifestyle habits may also prevent future herpes outbreaks:
- Stay rested to support a strong immune system
- Eat nutritious foods to support your body's innate healing response
- Manage stress
- Use the Luminance RED
The Luminance RED nourishes the skin with red light, which is metabolized to accelerate the body's healing process and to strengthen its defenses against future attacks. Regular use of the Luminance RED not only shortens the healing time of active outbreaks, but can also prevent future outbreaks altogether!
Improve Your Health Through Diet
Foods that contain high levels of vitamin C and other inflammation-fighting nutrients can help alleviate the symptoms of HSV-2.
Clinical and anecdotal research show that these foods and supplements in particular may help prevent herpes outbreaks:
- Lean protein
- Omega 3 fatty acids
- Vitamin B complex
At the same time, avoid foods thought to encourage outbreaks, such as excessive alcohol, sugar and refined carbohydrates.
Manage Your Stress Levels
Existing research suggests a high correlation between genital herpes outbreaks and persistent anxiety, depression and psychological stress.
Beyond the standard advice to eat better, sleep more, and avoid alcohol, these stress management techniques can help you cope with ongoing stress and anxiety:
- Mindfulness breathing
- Change in surroundings
- Helping others
- Delegating small tasks to others
- Talking to a professional
Though there isn't a cure for genital herpes, these ten tips can help you live your life to its fullest. There's no reason HSV-2 should limit your quality of life for even one more day!