Living With Genital Herpes: How To Prevent & Manage Outbreaks
Many sexually active people in the UK carry some form of the herpes simplex virus. If you’ve recently found out you have HSV-2 (more commonly known as genital herpes), there are a few steps you can take to minimise the impact of the virus on your everyday life. In this article, our sexual health team outlines the best ways to prevent and manage HSV-2 outbreaks.
How can you prevent genital herpes outbreaks? The most effective way of reducing the frequency of Herpes outbreaks is by taking daily antiviral medication. You can also minimise outbreaks by looking after your body, eating vitamin-rich foods, and getting enough sleep. Reducing daily stress can also help to minimise herpes outbreaks.
Read on to learn what steps you can take to minimise the risk of outbreaks and transmission to others.
How Can You Prevent A Genital Herpes Outbreak?
While you won’t be able to completely stop a genital herpes outbreak, there are steps you can take to minimise the chances of unwanted painful sores:
Low levels of stress will allow your immune system to function properly, and help control the viral activity within your body. Taking time out of your day to relax, using techniques such as journaling, yoga, and meditation can help regulate stress levels and keep your body functioning as it should.
A healthy diet and exercise help to maintain a healthy immune system. Some people with HSV-2 find that avoiding foods that contain a large amount of the amino acid Arginine (such as nuts, pork, and dairy products), reduces the number of outbreaks they experience. Excessive amounts of alcohol and smoking should also be avoided to keep your body healthy and able to fight the virus.
Friction during sexual intercourse or masturbation can sometimes trigger genital sores. Using water-based lubricants during sexual activity can help to reduce friction and minimise irritation.
How Should You Manage Genital Herpes Symptoms?
Herpes outbreaks can be painful and inconvenient, so we’ve outlined three ways you can help to speed up your recovery process and reduce the risk of transmission:
Taking antiviral medication, such as Acyclovir or Valtrex, is the most effective way to treat outbreaks. The daily medications work by inhibiting the DNA and stopping the virus from replicating. Taking the medication daily, or for 7 to 10 days after the symptoms first appear, can stop the outbreak from getting worse and may help sores recover faster.
Avoid sexual contact until all the genital sores are fully healed, which is when they are much less likely to be shedding a viral load (when your body is producing particles that can pass the virus onto others). To find out more on minimising herpes transmission read our recent blog where we discuss what precautions you should take to protect your sexual partners.
Leaving Sores Alone
While it may be tempting to pick at the blisters when you have an active outbreak, avoid touching the area completely. Touching the sores or wearing tight-fitting underwear could irritate the area and increase the risk of further infection.
What Triggers A Genital Herpes Outbreak?
To understand how genital herpes outbreaks can be prevented, you must first identify your triggers. Everyone experiences genital herpes differently, and what triggers outbreaks for you may differ from other people:
Most people experience their worst herpes outbreak one to two weeks after transmission. This outbreak tends to be the longest as the body hasn’t had time to build up any immune response to the viral load. Remember, herpes outbreaks on the genitals occur most frequently within the first year of infection, and should slow down over time.
Excessive sun exposure can increase the amount of ultraviolet radiation your body is exposed to. UV radiation can negatively affect the immune system, which makes viral activity (such as the herpes simplex virus) more difficult to control, sometimes causing outbreaks of sores.
Stress & Grief
Long-term stress and low moods can have a huge effect on your overall health and have a negative impact on your immune system. A weakened immune system is a common factor in many genital herpes outbreaks, which in turn allows viral activity to thrive and cause outbreaks.
Tip: To better understand your genital herpes outbreak triggers, keep a note of what is going on in your life when outbreaks do happen and see if you can spot any trends. Avoiding these risk factors can help to reduce the number of outbreaks.
Is Genital Herpes Curable?
No, unfortunately, there is no known cure for HSV-1 or HSV-2. However, there are steps you can take to minimise herpes outbreaks and transmission to others. Most treatment around the virus usually focuses on improving the symptoms. Medication, such as Valtrex, can be taken daily to reduce the viral shedding of herpes to almost zero, and minimise outbreaks.
Recurrent outbreaks usually get milder and less frequent over time, the older you get. Some people may only suffer one outbreak, and some non at all. Fortunately, genital herpes is not life-threatening for adults and you can lead a normal life following your diagnosis. To find out more about how herpes symptoms are treated, read our recent blog post.
Should Your Partner Get Tested For Genital Herpes?
Even if you are taking daily virus suppressors and practicing safe sex, the risk of transmission isn’t completely zero. Your partner should also get tested for genital herpes on a regular basis, so they don’t unknowingly pass on the virus to future sexual partners.
Testing for herpes usually isn’t as straightforward as other common STDs, such as chlamydia. The NHS won’t test you for herpes unless you have active, visible sores. If your partner doesn’t have active sores, and would still like to get tested for HSV-1 and HSV-2, we would recommend visiting one of our private sexual health clinics for a herpes screening. Our herpes screening is done using a variety of methods, not just swabs, for an accurate result.
If your partner would prefer to test from the comfort of their own home, try our Herpes Simplex I/II test. The test can be delivered discreetly, or one of our sexual health practitioners can visit the address to take samples.
Test For Genital Herpes With Your Sexual Health
Even if you have no visible sores on your genital region, you could still have herpes. The only way to be sure is to get a herpes screening. At Your Sexual Health, we offer a variety of ways to get tested for STDs, including in our clinics or in the comfort of your own home. Click here to find out more about the tests we offer.
Unlike many other providers, we offer a free phone consultation with a GP for any positive herpes tests. Our healthcare providers can advise on the best way to manage your positive diagnosis, providing you with effective care from start to finish.
If you have a question, no matter how small or significant, get in touch with us for advice and assistance.