How to Treat Genital Herpes

Updated on August 31, 2020

 Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease. It is a virus that is transmitted through sexual contact. Any person who has sexual contact can get genital herpes.

 Genital herpes can be passed between sex partners during sexual activity. Either sexual partner can have a herpes virus without visible symptoms of genital herpes.

 There are many herpes treatments available to treat herpes outbreaks, but it is important to know the treatment options available for the different symptoms of herpes.

 What is genital herpes

 Genital herpes is caused by one of two viruses known as herpes simplex virus type 1 (hsv-1) and type 2 (hsv-2).

 HSV-1 is the form of the herpes virus known as oral herpes. It is usually transmitted during childhood or young adulthood through non-sexual contact with saliva. Common oral herpes symptoms include fever blisters and cold sores around the mouth.

 Oral herpes can be passed to the genitals through oral sex. This type of sexually transmitted infection (STI) is identified by herpes symptoms around the genital areas. An infected person can experience genital herpes symptoms that include aches and pains similar to flu-like symptoms, pain when urinating, open sores, and for women, vaginal discharge.

 A genital herpes infection can impact sexual health and weaken the immune system.

How to treat genital herpes

 Genital herpes outbreaks require antiviral treatments. The first outbreak should be followed by a visit to a healthcare provider who can start a course of antiviral drugs. The three most common drugs used for genital herpes treatment are acyclovir, famciclovir, and valacyclovir, and are also known commercially and respectfully as Zovirax, Famvir, and Valtrex.

 All three antiviral medications are taken in a pill form. In severe cases, acyclovir may be administered intravenously.

 In most cases, genital herpes is treated based on the number of outbreaks the patient experiences. In intermittent cases, doctors will prescribe medication that can be taken at the first signs of an outbreak. Recurrent outbreaks are treated with a suppressive therapy of one of the above antiviral medicines and it is taken once daily. 

 Genital herpes is a chronic, life-long viral infection. Two types of HSV can cause genital herpes: HSV-1 and HSV-2. Most cases of recurrent genital herpes are caused by HSV-2, and approximately 50 million persons in the United States are infected with this type of genital herpes. However, an increasing proportion of anogenital herpetic infections have been attributed to HSV-1 infection, which is especially prominent among young women and MSM.

Most persons infected with HSV-2 have not had the condition diagnosed. Many such persons have mild or unrecognized infections but shed virus intermittently in the anogenital area. As a result, most genital herpes infections are transmitted by persons unaware that they have the infection or who are asymptomatic when transmission occurs. Management of genital HSV should address the chronic nature of the disease rather than focusing solely on treatment of acute episodes of genital lesions.

The clinical diagnosis of genital herpes can be difficult, because the painful multiple vesicular or ulcerative lesions typically associated with HSV are absent in many infected persons. Recurrences and subclinical shedding are much more frequent for genital HSV-2 infection than for genital HSV-1 infection.  A patient’s prognosis and the type of counseling needed depend on the type of genital herpes (HSV-1 or HSV-2) causing the infection; therefore, the clinical diagnosis of genital herpes should be confirmed by type-specific laboratory testing in your area.

Every medication has side effects. For a full list of common side effects you can view the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention CDC fact sheet by visiting

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