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Definition: Herpes

Herpes - is a contagious infection that's caused by the herpes simplex virus. One type of the virus: herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV1), can lead to cold sores around the mouth. An infection of herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV2) can lead to genital herpes, a sexually transmitted disease that causes blisters and pain in the genital area.

Both types of the virus can be transmitted through direct contact. A person can get the cold sores of HSV1 by kissing or sharing eating utensils with an infected person. A person can get genital herpes or HSV2 by having intimate contact with an infected person. A mother who has genital herpes can pass the infection on to her newborn if she delivers the baby vaginally. In many cases, herpes doesn't cause any symptoms, so it's possible for a person to carry it and unknowingly pass it on to someone else. In other cases, herpes infections can lead to infections in other parts of the body. Sometimes people who have oral or genital herpes only have one outbreak. But other people have many outbreaks, which are less painful and shorter than the initial episode.

There's no cure for herpes. In fact, once a person has been infected with the herpes virus, it's in the body forever. There are medications that can alleviate some of the discomfort that outbreaks cause. Herpes infections can be prevented by avoiding direct contact with sores or ulcers of someone who has an active herpes infection, either on the mouth or on the genitals. People who are sexually active should properly use a latex condom during sexual activity, but even condoms will not completely eliminate the risk of spreading genital herpes while there are active lesions. The only surefire way to prevent genital herpes is abstinence. Pregnant women who have had genital herpes or any type of genital sores or blisters in the past should always tell their obstetricians before delivery. In some cases, other delivery options (like a cesarean section) can prevent HSV2 from being passed to the newborn. It is possible to contract herpes from an infected person by shedding of the skin around their old, healed lesions, and women are more vulnerable this way than men. Shedding can occur whether or not symptoms are present.

It is currently estimated that 50 80% of North American adults have HSV1, and 20% have HSV2. Herpes is not the end of the world. It is a recurring skin condition, usually mild, that can be managed properly with medication and lifestyle changes. Try to avoid it, but if you become infected do not let it ruin your life.

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