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Genital Herpes in Teens: 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.

Finding out that you have genital herpes can cause a wide range of emotions. Talking to your partner, a counsellor, or a support group may help you feel better. And as you get older, you may not get as many outbreaks. The sores may also heal faster and not hurt as much.

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?

Here are some ways to help prevent STIs:

  • Limit your sex partners. Sex with one partner who has sex only with you can reduce your risk of getting an STI.
  • Talk with your partner or partners about STIs before having sex. Find out if they are at risk for an STI. It's possible to have an STI and not know it.
  • Wait to have sex with a new partner until you've each been tested.
  • Don't have sex if you have symptoms of an infection or if you're being treated for an STI.
  • Use a condom every time you have sex.
  • Don't share sex toys. But if you do share them, use a condom and clean the sex toys between each use.
  • Don't feel pressure to have sex. It's okay to say "no" anytime you want to stop.
  • Make sure you feel safe with your partner or partners. If you don't, talk with an adult you trust.

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.
  • You have increasing redness, swelling, 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?

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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.