Treatment with antiviral medicines can help people who are infected by genital herpes outbreaks stay symptom-free longer. These medicines can also reduce the severity and duration of symptoms when they do flare up in a patient. Drug therapy is not a full cure, but it can make living with the condition easier of a patient. There are three major medicines mainly used to diagnose genital herpes symptoms: acyclovir (Zovirax), famciclovir (Famvir), and valacyclovir (Valtrex). These are all taken in pill form. Severe or serious cases may be treated with the intravenous (IV) drug acyclovir.
Condoms are the best way of protection against STIs and pregnancy. Other contraceptives including the contraceptive pill will not completely prevent herpes virus, and neither will PrEP.
The most common symptoms of herpes are small blisters that burst to leave red, open sore. You can get herpes blisters on your penis, vagina, and anus, throat, on the top of your thighs and buttocks or around your mouth (where they’re called cold sores).
Other symptoms can include: pain when urinating (peeing), tingling or burning around the genitals, feeling unwell, with aches, pains and flu, like symptoms, unusual vaginal discharge in women. Many people with genital herpes won’t get any symptoms, or may get symptoms for the first time months or even years after they were infected.
For most people, the blisters go away within one to two weeks. Although the outbreaks clear-up by themselves, the virus stays in the body of a person. This means that people usually get blisters again- which is called having a ‘recurrent outbreak’. Outbreaks commonly become shorter and less severe over time.
There are different tests available. If you have symptoms, the most common test is to take a swab from a blister. The fluid can be tested or examined for the herpes simplex virus. Some places may also offer blood tests to check for antibodies to the virus, but these are often not routinely available, so ask a healthcare worker if you’re unsure. If you have genital herpes you should be test for other STIs. It’s also advised that you tell your recent sexual partner/ so they can also get tested and treated. Many people who have genital herpes do not notice anything wrong, and by telling them you can help to prevent the herpes virus being passed on.
The antiviral treatment is most effective when you take it within the first five days of symptoms appearing. Avoid touching the blisters as this can also increase the risk of spreading the infection. If your herpes treatment requires you to apply cream to a sore, just gently pat the cream on, being careful not to rub around the surrounding area.
Genital herpes is most common co-infections for people living with HIV and can be a more serious condition if you’re HIV positive-meaning that outbreaks may last longer and blisters can be more severe or serious. If you’re having recurrent outbreaks of genital herpes, you should have an HIV test, as this may be a sign of a weakened immune system caused by HIV infection. Having an STI such as genital herpes can increase your risk of getting and passing on HIV, as the blisters and sore provide an easy way for HIV to get into your body and cause an infection. People living with HIV who aren’t on treatment or who have lower CD4 count are especially vulnerable to other infections, like herpes.
If you’re consuming antiretroviral treatment for HIV, it’s important to discuss with your healthcare or doctor how treatment for herpes may interact with your HIV medicines.
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