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Frequently Asked Questions

What is herpes?
How does someone get herpes?
How is HSV diagnosed?
Where can I get tested?
Is there a cure?
How can I prevent transmitting herpes?
What are the risks from herpes during pregnancy?
Is it normal to have strong emotional reactions to being diagnosed with herpes?
What can I do?
Is there any connection between herpes and HIV?
Where can I get more info on herpes?

 

What is herpes?

Herpes is a virus that lives in the nervous system and shows up periodically on the skin. Herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) usually occurs in or around the mouth and herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2) usually occurs in the genital area, though HSV-1 can be found in the genital area as well.

Publications on general information

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How does someone get herpes?

Herpes is transmitted through intimate sexual contact where the skin is soft and susceptible. The skin of the mouth and genitals is especially susceptible to herpes. Herpes can be transmitted even when there are no genital lesions present.

Publications on viral shedding

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How is HSV diagnosed?

There are three common ways HSV infections can be diagnosed. One way is by a visual examination conducted by a health care provider. This diagnosis should always be confirmed by a lab test. The "gold standard" to diagnose herpes is through a herpes culture, but the result can be negative even though someone has HSV. A positive culture should identify whether the infection is HSV-1 or HSV-2. Finally, blood tests can detect antibodies to HSV. The antibodies may not develop until two months after someone has become infected. The Western Blot, the most accurate of these blood tests, is done at the University of Washington.

Publications on detection and testing

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Where can I get tested?

You can have your blood tested with a Western Blot at the University of Washington Virology Lab. To do this, have your health care provider call #206-598-6066 to request the HSV Type-Specific Serology information packet. Other accurate tests for HSV-2 may also be available through your local healthcare provider.

For more information, see the Herpes Blood Tests Quick Reference Guide provided by the Americian Social Health Association.

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Is there a cure?

No. At this point there is not a cure but there is treatment available. There are prescription drugs available Ė Acyclovir (Zovirax), Valacyclovir (Valtrex) and Famciclovir (Famvir). These can be used during each episode or on a daily basis to prevent recurrences. These medications are particularly effective during the initial outbreak. Acyclovir ointment is ineffective and we do not recommend it.

There are no approved vaccines, but ongoing studies to test the effectiveness of new vaccine products. Check out the Virology Research Clinic's Vaccine Study.

Publications about vaccines

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How can I prevent transmitting herpes?

The safer sex rule for preventing herpes transmission is: use latex barriers at all times and abstain from sexual activity when lesions are present. Most importantly, be sure to tell your partner that you have herpes before having sex. It may also be helpful for both of you to get tested. It is not safe to assume that you or your partner do not have herpes, because a person can have it without knowing it. No safer sex method is 100% effective, but these precautions can reduce your chances of passing HSV to your partner.

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What are the risks from herpes during pregnancy?

In very rare cases, women with genital herpes can transmit the virus to the baby if the mother has HSV in the birth canal during delivery. Herpes in the newborn is a very serious illness. However, some 20-25% of pregnant women have genital herpes and a majority of women with genital herpes give birth to healthy, happy babies. Women who acquire HSV for the first time towards the end of pregnancy have the highest risk of transmission of HSV to the baby.

Publications on HSV and pregnancy

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Is it normal to have strong emotional reactions to being diagnosed with herpes?

Absolutely. Many people experience depression, anger, and sadness or want to withdraw from relationships. Itís important to talk to your health care provider about these feelings.

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What can I do?

Stay healthy. Eat well, get enough rest, exercise, make time to enjoy yourself. Talk to your health care provider and partners about herpes. You can also participate in research to help increase the knowledge we have about herpes.

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Is there any connection between herpes and HIV?

Yes. Genital ulcers, such as those caused by herpes, may make it easier to acquire and transmit HIV.

Publications on HIV/HSV

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Where can I get more info on herpes?

We have a book available for $20 called Managing Herpes we highly recommend. Itís the most comprehensive and up to date book on herpes that is available. You can order this book by calling the National Herpes Hotline at (919)361-8488.

You can call University of Washington Virology Research Clinic at (206)520-4340 and ask to speak to a clinician about herpes. You can also contact the National Herpes Hotline (919)361-8488 to find out more about resources in your area.

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