Herpes: Description & Prevention
"One in five people has genital herpes, and most of them don't even know it," says Kimberly A. Workowski, MD, assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Emory University in Atlanta. Only about one-fourth of the estimated 50 million Americans infected experience any symptoms. But whether or not you have a single symptom, herpes is sexually transmittable.

Herpes is caused by herpes simplex virus type II (HSV-2). (Another strain, HSV-1, is the type responsible for cold sores, but it also sometimes causes genital infections.) Once you've contracted the virus, it's with you for a lifetime, living in nerve cells at the bottom of your spine. If you do have symptoms, they usually consist of a tingly or burning sensation in your genital area, followed by the appearance of small red blisters. These grow into larger pimplelike blisters and are often itchy and painful, with a watery yellow center that eventually ruptures and grows a crusty skin. Particularly with the initial infection, other symptoms may include fever, headache, swollen lymph glands, and abnormal vaginal discharge.

To prevent herpes, use a condom! If you don't have herpes, but your sexual partner does, or if you have a new sexual partner and aren't sure, using a condom offers some protection against contracting the virus, says Dr. Workowski. Use a condom even if no blisters are apparent. "The virus is still there," she says. Experts recommend latex rather than animal-membrane condoms.

Best of all may be the female condom, according to Dr. Workowski. This device consists of two plastic rings connected by a polyurethane sheath. "The female condom covers the whole vulva, protecting nearby areas that would otherwise expose the virus or be exposed to it."

Source: prevention.com

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