If you have herpes, you're not alone. Millions of Americans have it. Herpes has no cure. But you can control it and learn how to protect yourself and others from outbreaks.
What Is Herpes?
Herpes is a chronic (lifelong) virus that can cause sores and discomfort. Sores occur on the lips (oral herpes) or external sex organs (genital herpes). In rare cases, the virus transfers to other parts of the body.
The body controls herpes outbreaks with the immune system's white blood cells. These cells produce antibodies to neutralize the herpes virus and help make attacks less severe. In many cases, herpes does not recur. Or herpes recurs infrequently (every 3 to 12 months). Some people, though, have more frequent outbreaks. Herpes outbreaks sometimes decrease over time. But outbreaks can recur without a cause, or when the immune system is weak. Other viral infections (such as a cold) can cause outbreaks. Stress from a poor diet, fatigue, or emotional upset can also wear down the white blood cells.
To Help Prevent Outbreaks:
- Reduce stress and tension; both can lower your resistance to infection.
- Get plenty of sleep. This helps your immune system work better.
- Boost your immune system by eating a balanced diet. Your doctor may suggest taking supplements to help assure that you get all the nutrients you need.
- Avoid overexposure to wind, sun, and extreme temperatures. Too much sun may cause an oral herpes outbreak. Use sunscreen and lip balm.
National Herpes Hotline: 919-361-8488, www.ashastd.org
CDC National STD Hotline: 800-227-8922, www.cdc.gov/nchstp/dstd
How Herpes Spreads to Others
Herpes can be spread during an outbreak. But even without sores present, you may still "shed" the virus and infect others. You can take steps to prevent this, though.
To Protect Yourself and Others:
- Avoid kissing and intercourse when you have an oral or genital sore. Instead, you might try new ways of showing affection, such as massage.
- Wash your hands after touching a sore.
- Use a condom each time you have sex. You can pass the virus even when sores aren't present.
- Tell any new partners that you have herpes.
- If you're unsure about the timing of certain kinds of physical contact, ask your doctor.
- If you're a woman, be sure to have annual Pap tests to help find any problems early.