According to the American Social Health Association (ASHA), one out of five people has genital herpes. This disease, which is usually transmitted through unprotected sexual contact, often results in painful lesions that can last anywhere from two to four weeks. While there is no way to completely curtail itching and burning associated with an outbreak, there are methods by which a herpes sufferer can achieve more comfort.
What Is Genital Herpes?
Genital herpes (also known as herpes simplex type 2 or HSV-2) is passed into the body by way of tiny breaks in the skin or membranes. While the Center for Disease Control estimates that one in six teens and adults is infected with HSV-2, the American Social Health Association (ASHA) estimates a higher rate of infection, with one in five people infected. However, an estimated 90 percent of herpes sufferers are unaware that they have the virus. Genital herpes can lay dormant for weeks, months or years, making it difficult to ascertain when and how the virus was transmitted.
Signs and Symptoms of Genital Herpes
Individuals with genital herpes usually experience the classic symptom of lesions that resemble clusters of small blisters on the genital area. These lesions last anywhere from two to four weeks. While the lesions eventually crust over and scab, the period during which herpes is active is very uncomfortable for the sufferer, who might experience extreme burning and itching. The first outbreak is considered the worst for herpes sufferers, as often a second cluster of lesions will break out as the first group of lesions is healing. An individual may also experience additional symptoms of fever and swollen lymph nodes near the groin, as well as headaches, painful urination, and discharge from the vagina or urethra.
Preventing Itching and Burning
When it comes to unfortunate physical discomfort caused by an outbreak, there is no way to completely prevent itching or burning except to mitigate it using strategies established by ASHA and Mayo Clinic. These include washing the infected area with soap and water daily and keeping the infected area dry at all times. During outbreaks, herpes sufferers should wear loose underwear, preferably cotton, and loose, comfortable clothing that allows the skin to “breathe.” Treating the lesions with over-the-counter “anti-itch” creams and ointments is highly discouraged, as use of these topical treatments hinders the healing process. Those with active outbreaks should also avoid sexual intercourse, as friction exacerbates the lesions.
While there is no cure for herpes, recurrence of outbreaks can be successfully mitigated through the use of suppression therapy. Three oral antiviral medications are available that are approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration, including Zovirax, Famvir and Valtrex. In addition to preventing outbreaks, when used during a recurrence of herpes, these medications may increase the rate at which lesions heal. Zovirax is also available in topical form; however, the ASHA recommends use of the oral form of medication, as it is more effective. If a herpes sufferer takes Valtrex on a daily basis, the risk of transmission to a partner is reduced.
Home Remedies for Herpes
There is no conclusive evidence that supports the effectiveness of home remedies and treatments on active herpes outbreaks. Some homeopathic websites claim that a teaspoon of antiseptic liquid and rose water diluted in a glass of water clears up a herpes outbreak. Yet another suggested treatment is the application of fresh yogurt to the infected area. Botanial and dietary supplements such as echinacea, ginseng, aloe, lysine and zinc may purport success in fighting outbreaks. Again, there is no research that supports these claims.