Herpes Information Made Simple

…..A few times a week a new case of genital herpes presents to my office, and the patient always experiences great psychological and physical pain and stress.  The classic presentatioBeautiful Woman with Pencil and Folder Isolated on White.n of HSV (herpes simplex virus) is a painful group of vesicles and ulcers.

…..The infections are classified as primary, non-primary first episode, or recurrent.  The primary infection is the most painful and may be associated with tender lymph nodes as well as a fever and body aches.  If not treated, these primary lesions can last 2 to 6 weeks.  Recurrences vary in their frequency; however, 50% of patients will have one within 6 months.  These recurrences are generally milder with fewer lesions and a much shorter course.

Herpes, Type 1 and Type 2

…..HSV is a DNA virus classified into two subtypes, 1 and 2, based on various proteins making up the virus.  HSV-1 is primarily the cause of herpes of the mouth and in the past was said to be the cause of infections above the waist.  It can also be responsible for genital infections, and these infections are becoming more common, especially among young women.

…..HSV-2 is almost always a genital infection.  The virus is spread through direct contact with mucosa (moist tissue like the vagina and lips/mouth) or damaged, irritated skin.  Incubation of the virus lasts for about a week, and the virus then reproduces in the superficial layers of the skin, causing inflammation and damage.  During the first infection, the virus enters the nerve cells and becomes dormant.  The virus can reactivate and cause ulcerative disease or shed without any symptoms.

…..Let me leave you with a few facts:

  • In the US, 20% of women have had an HSV-2 infection
  • Most infections are spread by those who are unaware of having HSV
  • Recurrent disease is more common in those with type 2, compared to those with type 1

Methods of Herpes Treatment

 …..For now we will finish our discussion of herpes.

…..During a symptomatic outbreak, the treatment consists of supportive measures such as oral and topical pain medications and special genital hygiene.  An antiviral medication can be added to decrease the viral shedding and the duration of the painful ulcers.  These medications should be started at the onset of the symptoms.

…..Acyclovir and valacyclovir are the two most common antivirals used and have a long history of safety in pregnancy.  There are some patients who experience frequent attacks, and a daily treatment of these medications can greatly suppress the episodes and therefore decrease the chance of spreading to a sexual partner.

…..In the future we will have a discussion of herpes and pregnancy, but for now I am going to get a donut.

-Dr. P

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Gonorrhea – A Condition Which Often Lacks Symptoms

…..teenage depression - teen woman sitting thinkingNext in my series about sexually transmitted infections in adolescents, we will be discussing gonorrhea.

…..Gonorrhea is a common STI in the adolescent and young adult population (15 to 25).  There are about 750,000 cases each year, with women having a slightly higher rate than men.  We should use the same targeted screening that is used for chlamydial infections (with all women under 25 being tested).  The same risk factors are associated with gonorrhea and chlamydia, and with both, more than 50% of women are asymptotic.

…..When there are symptoms, they may include vaginal discharge, pelvic pain, or pain with urination.  Again, if there is a delay in diagnosing and implementing the treatment of an infection, severe pelvic problems can develop.

…..There are specific antibiotic protocols for treatment that are available.  These days, consideration must be made for antibiotic resistance, which has been developing.  Lastly, with all persons found to have gonorrhea, there should be testing for HIV, syphilis, and chlamydia.

-Dr. P

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Urgent Facts About Chlamydia, a Common STI

…..Sexually transmitted infections in adolescents continued…

…..CChlamydia Infohlamydia is one of the most common infectious diseases in the United States, with somewhere between 1 to 3 million cases each year among women ages 15 to 45. The most affected group is between ages 15 and 19, followed by 20 to 25 as the second most affected group.

…..One problem in finding this infection is that less than half of the most affected women are screened for Chlamydia trachomatis. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines suggest a yearly screening for chlamydia on all sexually active women who are 25 and younger, and testing should be performed for women over 25 if they have a new sexual partner or multiple partners. Women should also seek testing if they experience abdominal or pelvic pain, vaginal discharge, painful intercourse, pain with urination, or irregular bleeding.

…..Testing usually entails a speculum exam with a Q-tip swab of the cervix. If the speculum exam is a problem for the adolescent, then a vaginal swab can be performed. The patient can even collect a vaginal swab test privately if necessary.

…..After a woman is treated, reinfection is common, and having a treated infection does not provide immune protection against future infections. It is therefore advised that a repeat test be performed a few months after a treated infection.

…..If there is a delay in treatment of this infection, then there is an increased chance of developing an infection of the pelvis, called pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can lead to infertility. Some studies suggest that PID can develop in up to 30% of women with their first chlamydial infection.

…..There are many antibiotic treatment plans suggested by the CDC, and they all are very successful. The adolescent and her partner should avoid intercourse for 7 days after both partners have been treated.  Ideally, the patient should refer for testing any sexual partner that she encountered within the last 1-2 months.

-Dr. P

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What Factors Place Adolescents at an Increased Risk of Developing STIs?

Young women are at a high risk of acquiring STIs (sexually transmitted infections) and of developing the serious complications of untreated chlamydial and gonococcal infections.  Almost half of all STIs occur in teenagers and young adults between the ages of 15 and 25.  Physical and behavioral factors place the sexually active teenager at an increased risk to develop these infections.

Physically, the cervix is more vulnerable to these infections because it has not fully developed, exposing more susceptible cells to the infections.  Since the young woman may be coming into contact with these infectious agents for the first time, her immune defenses are not strong.

Behavioral risk factors include having multiple new sexual partners and not using condoms or not using condoms properly.  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has a goal to increase the simultaneous use of both condoms and hormonal contraception (birth control pills).  This combination of methods is highly effective in preventing a pregnancy and preventing the acquisition of STIs.  Yet currently, some studies reveal that only about 5% of adolescent females are using this practice.

-Dr. P

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