Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education website.

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Am Fam Physician. 2000;61(6):1705

See related article on herpes simplex virus infections.

How can I avoid getting genital herpes?

No vaccine can protect you from HSV infection, but you can do some things to keep from getting infected.

  • Limit the number of sexual partners you have in your lifetime.

  • Make sure that you and your sexual partner use condoms every time you have sex.

If I already have herpes, how can I keep from giving it to someone else?

You can do several things to keep from spreading genital herpes:

  • Consider sexual abstinence (not having sex until you're in a committed relationship).

  • Don't have any kind of sex when you have herpes sores, itching or scabs. And remember that you can spread genital herpes even when you have no sign of a sore.

  • Always use condoms when you have sex.

  • Always wash your hands right after touching your genital area, even if you have no sores.

Is there a treatment for genital herpes?

Several medicines can help. Acyclovir (brand name: Zovirax), famciclovir (brand name: Famvir) and valacyclovir (brand name: Valtrex) can be used for genital herpes. Your doctor can prescribe one of these medicines for you. There are two ways to take the medicine: “suppressive” and “episodic.”

Suppressive treatment keeps herpes sores from coming back. You have to take one or more pills every day for a long time. This can be expensive. When you stop taking the pills, the sores might come back again. However, if you have many sores and they hurt a lot, ask your doctor about suppressive therapy.

With episodic treatment, you only take medicine when you start to get a sore. The medicine makes the sore hurt less and go away faster. This works best if you take the medicine within a few hours after the first signs that you are getting a sore. Episodic treatment doesn't keep sores from coming back another time.

Take good care of yourself and eat a healthy diet, because the sores often come back when your resistance (immunity) is weak.

How can I avoid spreading herpes to other parts of my body?

Being careful can help keep herpes from spreading to other parts of your body:

  • Always wash your hands after touching your genital area, even if you have no sores.

  • After bathing, use a towel to gently pat dry the sores. Don't let anyone else use your towel. Wash your towel in hot soapy water.

Are there support groups for people with genital herpes?

You can get information about local support groups from these national groups: American Social Health Association (telephone: 1-800-230-6039), The National Herpes Hotline (telephone: 1-919-361-8488), The Herpes Network (http://www.herpesnetwork.net/)

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