Genital Herpes: Care Instructions
Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). The most common way to get it is through sexual or other physical contact with someone who has herpes.
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.
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 can't see.
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 advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) 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. Take your medicines exactly as directed. Call your doctor or nurse advice line if you think you're having a problem with your medicine. You'll get more details on the specific medicines your doctor prescribes.
- To reduce the pain and itching from herpes sores:
- Take warm sitz baths.
- Keep the sores clean and dry in between baths or showers. You can let the sores air-dry. This may feel better than using a towel.
- Wear cotton underwear. Cotton absorbs moisture well.
- Try pouring warm water over the area while urinating. This can help prevent urine from irritating the sores.
- 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.
- Reduce or avoid things that trigger outbreaks for you. These may include fatigue, stress, overexposure to sun, and irritation of the genital area. This can help lower the risk of repeated outbreaks.
How can you prevent it?
It's easier to prevent an STI than it is to treat one:
- Limit your sex partners. The safest sex is with one partner who has sex only with you.
- Talk with your partner or partners about STIs before you have sex. Find out if they are at risk for an STI. Remember that it's possible to have an STI and not know it.
- Wait to have sex with new partners until you've each been tested.
- Don't have sex if you have symptoms of an infection or if you are being treated for an STI.
- Use a condom (a male or female condom) every time you have sex. Condoms are the only form of birth control that also helps prevent STIs.
- If you're pregnant, be extra careful. Some STIs can be passed to your baby during delivery.
Vaccines are available for some STIs, such as HPV. Ask your doctor for more information.
When should you call for help?
Call your doctor or nurse advice 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 advice 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?
Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd
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Current as of: November 17, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine & Kevin C. Kiley MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology