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Can Genital Herpes be cured?

12th March 2019

There are a variety of sexually transmitted infections, some of them well known (like Chlamydia) and others, not so much (such as Mycoplasma Genitalium). And as well as categorising STI’s into how wide-spread or how talked about they are, they can also be split into two distinct categories; curable and simply treatable. Genital herpes falls into the latter category, as there is no cure for it once you have picked up the infection.

Why can’t genital herpes be cured?

STI’s like Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea can be cured and cleared with a short course of antibiotics (sometimes only requiring a single dose). So why can’t the same be said of herpes? Well, the difference here is the same as that within realms outside of sexual health. It’s the same reason that you are warned not to take antibiotics for a cold or the flu and that’s because herpes is caused by a virus, not a bacteria.

Bacterial infections (like the aforementioned Chlamydia and gonorrhoea) can be cleared using antibiotics, but viral infections don’t respond to this kind of medication. Your body is also incapable of clearing certain viruses, which is why you live with genital herpes forever after contracting it; your body simply can’t get rid of it.

The herpes virus comes in a variety of strains including the herpes simplex virus 1 and the herpes simplex virus 2. The HSV1 is the virus that causes oral herpes, otherwise known as cold sores. This causes painful and infectious spots around the mouth and lips, that flare up and calm down in cycles. Genital herpes is caused by the HSV2 virus and it behaves in very much the same way, producing sores on the genitals that flare up and then go into remission again over time.

A little known fact is that the herpes virus is also responsible for chickenpox and shingles, in the form of the herpes zoster virus. Again, the virus creates small painful spots, but with chickenpox, it’s usually over the entire body. This explains why you only get chickenpox once; because your body is unable to dispel the virus completely and so a tiny amount simply lies dormant for years to come. When the virus gets reaggravated and changes slightly, this is when people experience shingles and this usually shows itself as a painful rash across the chest and back.

How can I treat genital herpes?

Although it cannot be cured, genital herpes can be treated and effectively managed. There are a number of antiviral medications like Aciclovir that help to keep the symptoms of herpes at bay. This is designed to keep the number of flare-ups down so that sufferers can go about their daily lives as easily as possible.

How to avoid genital herpes?

Because the infection is a lifelong one, you’re probably going to want to avoid it as best you can. Safe sex practices are always advised, which means using condoms for all vaginal, anal and oral sex. However, herpes can affect any part of the skin in the genital region, which means that condoms don’t guarantee protection from the disease. While it may not be an airtight method of protection against herpes though, using condoms does significantly reduce the spread of the infection.

Avoiding contracting genital herpes is also about open and honest communication. You should always first discuss your sexual health (and theirs) with any potential new partners before having sex with them, to identify how safe each of you is being. It is okay to have sex if you genital herpes (between outbreaks; not when you have active sores), however, you could still pass the infection on and so it’s important that your partner knows, understands and accepts the risks.