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Genital Herpes: Care Instructions

Your Care Instructions

Genital herpes is caused by a virus called herpes simplex. There are two types of this virus. Type 2 is the type that usually causes genital herpes. But type 1 can also cause it. Type 1 is the type that causes cold sores.

Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). The most common way to get it is through sexual or other contact with someone who has herpes. For example, the virus can spread from a sore in the genital area to the lips. And it can spread from a cold sore on the lips to the genital area.

Some people are surprised to find out that they have herpes or that they gave it to someone else. This is because a lot of people who have it don't know that they have it. They may not get sores or they may have sores that they cannot see. But the virus can still be spread by a person who does not have obvious sores or symptoms.

There is no cure for herpes, but antiviral medicine can help you feel better and help prevent more outbreaks. This medicine may also lower the chance of spreading the virus.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Be safe with medicines. If your doctor prescribes medicine, take it exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor or nurse call line if you think you are having a problem with your medicine. You will get more details on the specific medicines your doctor prescribes.
  • To reduce the pain and itching from herpes sores:
    • Wash the area with water 3 or 4 times a day.
    • Keep the sores clean and dry in between baths or showers. You may want to to let the sores air dry. This may feel better than a towel.
    • Wear cotton underwear. Cotton absorbs moisture well.
    • Take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Read and follow all instructions on the label. Do not take two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.

To prevent the spread of genital herpes

  • Latex condoms are a good way to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. But you can still get the virus even if you use a condom. For the best protection, use condoms every time you have sex, from the beginning to the end of sexual contact. Remember that you can infect someone even if you do not have obvious symptoms or sores.
  • Avoid sexual contact when you have symptoms. Symptoms include sores, tingling, or pain.
  • Wash your hands if you touch a sore. In some cases, especially if this is your first herpes outbreak, you can spread the virus to other parts of your body or to other people.
  • Having one sex partner (who does not have STIs and does not have sex with anyone else) is a good way to avoid STIs.
  • Talk to your sex partner or partners about genital herpes.
  • Encourage your sex partners to get a blood test to see if they have been infected.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have a new fever.
  • There is increasing redness or red streaks around herpes sores.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • You have herpes and you think you might be pregnant.
  • You have an outbreak of herpes sores, and the sores are not healing.
  • You have frequent outbreaks of genital herpes sores.
  • You are unable to pass urine or are constipated.
  • You want to start antiviral medicine.
  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.