My sister told me she has herpes. Can you tell me about this disease?

Herpes is a sexually transmitted disease caused by the herpes simplex virus. The virus enters the body through the mouth and/or genitals. There are two types of herpes that are distinguished by both their symptoms and their severity. The first, Type I usually shows itself as cold sores or fever blisters around or in the mouth. Type II involves sores in the genital area. There can be cross over between these two types due to oral sex. Herpes can be transmitted during vaginal, oral, anal or manual sex with a person who has an active herpes infection. Unfortunately active herpes doesn't always present itself obviously.

The first symptoms of herpes usually appear from within two days to nearly three weeks after transmission. A woman will notice tingling or itching in her genital area at first, which may be accompanied by burning sensations or pains in the legs and buttocks. A woman might also feel pressure in her pelvic area. These feelings will be followed by sores. The sores will first just look like tiny irritations or bumps, but they will then develop into watery blisters on the clitoris, the outer lips of the vagina, the vaginal opening and sometimes on the anus, thighs and buttocks. 90% of women will experience these symptoms at their first infection. Painful urination and a dull ache in the genital area can accompany active sores. Sometimes this first outbreak will also occur with a fever, headaches and swollen glands in the groin. A few days after the appearance of blisters, the blisters will rupture and leave ulcers that may bleed. These ulcers will then scab over and eventually heal.

It is important to note that some women don't experience these symptoms at all and can have contracted herpes without even noticing. For this reason, among others it is crucial that all sexually active women, regardless of age, regularly visit a gynecologist.

There is no cure for herpes but there are ways for a woman to manage her herpes and to insure that she does not infect anyone else. Some women will never experience another outbreak after their first, but most do. Stress and menstruation can make a woman more vulnerable to contracting herpes and to experiencing a flare up if she already has herpes. The initial outbreak can be treated with topical creams prescribed by a doctor, but primarily the sores must be kept clean and dry and simply given time. Wearing cotton underwear and soaking periodically in a warm bath with baking soda can relieve some of the pain and itching. Urinating in the shower or spraying sores lightly with water while urinating can cut down on the pain from contact between open sores and urine. By managing her general well being a woman can decrease the frequency and severity of flare-ups. Herpes is a disease, and so living with it can be difficult, but if a woman pays attention to her health and to managing the external elements that stimulate flare-ups such as certain foods and stress inducers, she can live a healthy life.

In order to prevent the transmission of the virus to someone else she should make sure that she always has safe sex. She may also consider avoiding sex altogether during a flare-up. Since herpes can be transmitted through contact with an open sore she can protect her sleeping partner from contracting herpes by covering any open sores. For this same reason a woman with herpes may have to choose a cesarean section if she is experiencing any active herpes sores just prior to childbirth. If a woman has active herpes sores and delivers her baby through her vagina she puts her child at risk of contracting the virus during birth. Newborns can have much more serious consequences including brain damage, blindness and death. Any woman who is pregnant and has herpes should discuss her birthing options with her doctor and prepare for the possibility of a cesarean. Herpes is pretty awful in its own right but it also correlated with a woman's risk of other diseases such as cervical cancer. For this reason a woman who has herpes should take the important preventative measure of getting a regular Pap smear.

Anti-viral drugs, such as Valtrex, Zorivax, and others do not cure or prevent transmission of the disease. However, they can help keep the disease under control. They can minimize outbreaks, and decrease the length and severity of the outbreaks that do occur.

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