Q. I am 23 years old and I just learned I have herpes. I feel like my life is over. I fear no one will ever want to date me again.

I’m not promiscuous at all. It only took one person for me to be infected. I am sinking into depression just thinking about it.

I understand that people with herpes may live perfectly normal, happy lives and even have kids, but the fear exists nonetheless. Is there any treatment that really works for this condition?

A. Genital herpes is extremely common, affecting one person in five in the U.S. It is also quite treatable. One woman wrote:

“I had horrible outbreaks at first. They were a constant reminder of what I considered to be a huge mistake in judgment.

“It wasn’t until my doctor prescribed Valtrex that things turned around for me. It shortened the duration, and if I took it soon enough, the severity. When I met my husband, I started taking it daily for suppression.”I’ve been married for 14 years now to a wonderful man who still doesn’t have it, probably because I take Valtrex every day and abstain from sex if I have an outbreak. I stay healthy and try to limit stress. I get outbreaks maybe twice a year and they are only an annoyance.”

There are three medications used to fight the herpes virus: Famvir (famciclovir), Valtrex (valacyclovir) and Zovirax (acyclovir). For occasional outbreaks, one of these prescription drugs should be taken at the earliest sign. People who have frequent outbreaks may be able to prevent them by taking one of these antiviral drugs daily.

Although the virus can be transmitted even when there are no visible sores, daily use of an antiviral may reduce the risk. Conscientious use of condoms can also be helpful.

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  1. Susanne

    I have a cold sore maybe one time a year and am wondering if one should refrain from sexual activity involving the mouth only or everywhere, the same as genital herpes.

  2. L.C.

    Re. your article on canker sores in our local paper, there is no mention that this is the herpes one virus and that it can be transmitted even when there is no canker sore through sloughing of the skin. With the more prevalent sexual practices of today, that makes it easier to transmit the virus to our partners sexual organs. Please, please inform the public. Many doctors are uninformed and mention nothing to their patients that have or had canker sores. They do not realize that they carry the herpes 1 virus.
    Do you think it possible to lower ones resistance to the herpes 1 virus by getting the shingles shot? They all seem to be related.

  3. Jim

    I have come across some very interesting medical research which clearly showed that people who were given Siberian Ginseng at a dose of 2 to 4 grams daily in a 6 month long double-blind and placebo controlled medical trial slashed their Herpes outbreaks by a almost 50% as boosts the strength of your immune system.
    Other double-blind placebo controlled medical studies have had success with an all natural creme made with a strong concentration of Lemon Balm. It should be used several times daily as soon as you suspect an outbreak may occur and should help reduce the number of blisters and the intensity of discomfort you experience, as well it will help speed healing of lesions.
    I strongly agree that keeping your stress level low and making sure that your immune system strong as possible is very important in reducing Herpes outbreaks.
    So make sure you eat a good healthy diet and avoid getting worn out ad get plenty of rest and relaxation.

  4. G.H.

    I’m a 45 yr. old male and have had genital herpes since the age of 16. Here are some things I’ve learned and have found helpful over the years.
    Stress is a big factor, both physical and emotional. Learn how to reduce or eliminate it. That may be easier said than done depending on your personality type but it can be done. Counseling, self help and/or spiritual publications are options for emotional stress. Getting proper sleep is the main concern with physical stress.
    Diet is also important. From what I understand, it’s a good idea to stay away from white rice, enriched flour products like pasta and white bread and I’ve heard beer’s a no no. The food part is worth looking around and learning more about.
    The strength of your immune system is key to the frequency and severity of outbreaks. Again, eat right, get rest and take a multivitamin. I’ve heard vitamin C is good for the immune system and the B vitamins are the feel good (well being) boosters.
    Hygiene is another thing. That’s pretty self explanatory. Stay clean and dry as possible. Especially during an outbreak. Being male I’ve found keeping the penis separated from the scrotum with a strip of soft cotton, you can cut these out of an old tee shirt, helps prevent spreading by keeping the lesion out of contact with other said parts of the body.
    Finally, find out what medication if any is right for you. Talk to your doctor. I’ve found, as mentioned in previous replies, that the frequency and severity lessens over time. Zorvirax ointment has cleared up outbreaks really well for me. But Acyclivir and Valtrex, I’m not sure really helped me that much. A lot of times I just wait it out. Everyone’s different.

  5. FA

    My husband has had extremely good results with lysine for the mouth sore version of herpes; he takes it daily. We have noticed over the years that his outbreaks are always stress-related.

  6. jD

    I was devastated too when I first learned of contracting herpes. However, let me reassure you that the outbreaks will subside over time. Also, feeling stressed will only make it worse. Years later, it is extremely rare that I experience an outbreak. At first, I used a topical product that seemed to shorten the duration of the outbreaks. I never used preventive products because I don’t like to take any more systemic medications than I need to. I always refrained from intercourse during an outbreak, and got to know my body so I was aware of the early “prodromal” symptoms so I could refrain at that time. Over the next 35+ years I never passed the virus on to anyone with this method.
    So, relax, become aware of your body to detect the “prodromal symptoms” (the earliest indications, a very subtle sensation), do not have sex involving your vagina during outbreaks, wash your hands religiously, avoid touching your eyes during that time. Read all you can on the topic to get the facts, realizing that this is not as bad as you think! It is manageable, and you will learn to live easily with it.
    This is an opportunity to restrict sexual relations (if you are single) to only serious, meaningful relationships. Be honest with the person before entering into the sexual arena, explaining the facts that it doesn’t mean it will be passed along if abstinence during outbreaks is practiced. You can still be romantic and express your love in other ways during these times. He is probably safer with you than with someone who doesn’t realize she is a carrier!
    Hope this helps!!

  7. DC

    I used to have small cold sores occasionally – same type virus, different location.
    I learned to balance my dietary intake ratio of Lysine to Arginine to reduce outbreaks.
    For the last few years I’ve been taking 5 grams (5000 mg) of good quality Free-Form L-Lysine in capsule form, after a meal, once every day.
    To ensure absorption and prevent stomach upset, I do not buy tablet-form Lysine.
    By loading up on the Lysine supplement I don’t have to consider the Arginine content of food and never have outbreaks anymore.
    Lysine is a safe supplement – I have not experienced any side effects with capsule-form, on a full stomach.
    Look for a table called Ratio of Lysine to Arginine in Certain Foods, by James M. Scutero for more information.
    It is also important to eat a balanced diet, get moderate exercise & get plenty of sleep each night.

  8. libra9

    Think inexpensive natural interventions before expensive drugs:
    Lysine, an essential amino acid, has been found to inhibit the spread of the herpes simplex virus and is often used to treat “cold sore” i.e. herpes.
    Also, reduce stress which aggravates the virus that hides at the root of nerves between outbreaks.
    Best wishes

  9. Kathy

    My husband has herpes and has been able to control outbreaks somewhat successfully by controlling what he eats. When he acquired this about 30 years ago, he determined that certain foods aggravated it and caused outbreaks. He does not eat anything with caffeine, nuts, rice, beer, or any food high in arginine. While he does sometimes have outbreaks, we believe they are usually caused by higher than normal levels of stress. He uses those times as opportunities to enjoy the prohibited foods.

  10. Marilyn

    This may not be entirely on subject – I don’t have experience with genital herpes mentioned above – but I am writing to sing the praises of Valtrex for treatment of shingles, another form of herpes. Several years ago I developed a SEVERE sore throat, Dr. phoned in an antibiotic prescription. After 3 days, it was so much worse I couldn’t turn my head from side to side, had to look straight ahead. Dr. finally referred me to Ear, Nose and Throat specialist who did a procedure where a tube with a camera on the end is inserted up the nose and down into the throat.
    Said he had heard of shingles inside the throat in medical school but had never seen it in all his years of practice, but that is what I had. He prescribed Valtrex and within a few days, pain was less, finally disappearing altogether. I believe I have a high pain tolerance but pain from shingles in throat is almost cause for contemplating suicide!! I kid you not. I shall forever be grateful for Valtrex!

  11. Bill, Miami, FL

    While it’s not the prescribed dose, I take 200mg of acyclovir at night and 200mg in the morning. I increase that to 600mg a day if I feel a possible prodome. I haven’t had an actual outbreak that I know of in years and my former wife (we separated a little over a year ago) of close to 30 years tested herpes free.
    Acyclovir, as a generic, is a very reasonably priced drug. Your doctor will probably recommend 400mg twice a day, which is probably a good dose for a recent infection. The only drug tested to protect a partner is one of the name brand products, which I believe is Valtrex (valacyclovir). My belief is they all do that but paying for a placebo controlled double blind study is quite expensive and none of the generic drug makers will do that.
    The Herpes Resource Center of the American Social Health Association is an excellent place to get info. They have a hotline, publications, HELP groups, etc. In today’s world, contracting Herpes could happen to anyone. We don’t shame people for having cold sores, which is also Herpes, so we shouldn’t shame people for having Herpes.

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