- Common, but on the decline
Nationwide, at least 45 million people ages 12 and older -- or one out of five adolescents and adults -- have had genital herpes, a sexually transmitted disease caused by the herpes simplex viruses type 1 or type 2. Over the past decade, the percentage of Americans with genital herpes has decreased, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. It's more common in women (about one out of four women) than men (almost one out of eight).
Most people who have genital herpes don't know it because they've never had any symptoms or don't recognize them. But often, when a person becomes infected for the first time, symptoms appear in two to 10 days. Early signs include a tingling feeling or itching in the genital area, or pain in the buttocks or down the leg. Blisters typically appear on or around the genitals or rectum. You can still infect a partner if sores aren't visible.
- New research
Some clinical trials are testing drugs aimed at disrupting genes or enzymes that the virus needs to survive. Several vaccines are in various stages of development, as well as gels or creams that a woman could insert into the vagina before sex to prevent infection in herself and her partner.
If a woman has her first episode of genital herpes while she's pregnant, she can pass the virus to her unborn child and may deliver a premature baby. Half of the babies infected with herpes either die or suffer nerve damage. If a pregnant woman has an outbreak and it is not the first one, her baby's risk of being infected during delivery is very low.
- Donating blood
People with herpes can donate blood. According to the American Red Cross, individuals taking antiviral medication (acyclovir, valacyclovir, famciclovir) will need to wait 48 hours after their last dose before donating blood. The American Red Cross says those currently experiencing an outbreak of genital herpes should not donate blood.
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