Herpes and Genital Warts

There’s a sentence out there that no person ever wishes to hear- “You have an STD.” An STD is a sexually transmitted disease and there are several out there that can cause some really horrible damage. In this article, we’ll be focusing on two more common STDs- herpes and genital warts. Herpes has two forms- oral and genital. Both are caused by the herpes simplex virus, though oral herpes usually manifests itself in the form of sores on the lips (“cold sores”). It’s estimated that 50 to 80 percent of the American adult population has oral herpes (HSV-1). Genital herpes (HSV-2) is estimated to be present in 20 percent of the same population, approximately 50 million people. Many of those infected aren’t even aware that they have the disease.

According to Herpes.com, “Studies show that more than 500,000 Americans are diagnosed with genital herpes each year and the largest increase is occurring in young teens.” A major sign that indicates herpes is one or more blisters appearing on or around the genitals and rectum. After the blisters break, they leave tender ulcers that may take two to four weeks to heal the first time they occur. Outbreaks that occur after the initial one are generally less intense and can occur in the weeks or months following the initial outbreak. The infection stays in the body indefinitely, but can be treated with medications. How does one get herpes? The virus can be found in outbreaks, so direct sexual contact with someone having an outbreak is almost a guaranteed way to be infected with herpes. However, it’s also possible for the virus to be transmitted through the skin when an outbreak hasn’t occurred so any sexual contact increases risk of infection. To lessen the risk of infection, a condom should be used during sexual intercourse. To completely avoid infection, abstaining from sexual contact or being in a monogamous relationship with someone who tested negatively for the virus are the only options.

Unfortunately there are complications involved with herpes. The recurrent genital sores can cause psychological distress in those who know they have it. Since women are generally more infected than men (one in six as opposed to one in nine), women must be careful not to contract the virus during pregnancy. The CDC claims “a newly acquired infection during late pregnancy poses a greater risk of transmission to the baby. If a woman has active genital herpes at delivery, a cesarean delivery is usually performed.” If you have herpes before pregnancy, it is possible to be treated for the virus without posing the risk of added birth defects.

Genital warts are one of the most common types of STDs. Also known as venereal warts or condylomata acuminate, affects the moist tissue of the genital area and created flesh colored bumps that may have a cauliflower-like appearance. They are treatable with medications and surgery. The main risk associated with genital warts is the virus that causes it- HPV or the human papillomavirus. The warts themselves are not dangerous, but HPV has been linked to cervical cancer. The Mayo Clinic says, “Certain types of HPV also are associated with cancer of the vulva, cancer of the anus and cancer of the penis. Human papillomavirus infection doesn’t always lead to cancer, but it’s still important for women, particularly if you’ve been infected with certain higher risk types of HPV, to have regular Pap tests.” They can also cause problems during pregnancy. The warts attached to the vaginal wall can enlarge and make urination difficult or can stunt the vaginal tissues ability to expand during the birthing process. A rare problem is a baby born to a mother with genital warts may develop the warts in their throat and the baby risks airway obstruction.

It often takes six weeks to six months after the infection occurs. Genital warts grow more rapidly when the immune system is compromised by things like chemotherapy, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, Hodgkin’s disease, or taking anti-rejection drugs after an organ transplant. The warts themselves are not dangerous, but the bleeding they cause could increase risk to HIV. Treatments for genital warts are rather easy to do. Sometimes the body fights off the virus on its own, but if the warts are too uncomfortable you can seek treatment from your health care provider. Some treatments have to be applied by your health care provider, but some treatments can be used at home. In some cases, the warts can be frozen off with cryotherapy or burned off with electrocauterization. Surgery to remove the warts with lasers is also an option.

No STD is a walk in the park. As always, use protection when choosing a new sexual partner and keep yourself safe. Get yourself tested often, even if you don’t have any symptoms. Be careful!

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