Genital Herpes: Care Instructions

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Your 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 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 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 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 every time you have sex. Condoms are the only form of birth control that also helps prevent STIs.
  • If you had sex without a condom, ask your doctor if taking a preventive medicine is recommended. It may help prevent certain STIs if it's taken within 24 to 72 hours after unprotected sex.
  • Don't share sex toys. But if you do share them, use a condom and clean the sex toys between each use.

Vaccines are available for some STIs, such as HPV. Ask your doctor for more information.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor 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 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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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.