"I don't know why genital herpes has this pariah, fearful component to it," says H. Hunter Handsfield, MD, a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Washington in Seattle and a nationally recognized STD expert. "Herpes is, in fact, the same disease as our cold sores and fever blisters around the mouth, but we don't react emotionally the same way."
Like chlamydia, herpes usually doesn't announce itself. Experts advise looking at a new partner's genitals to make sure there are no signs of infection. But "most herpes transmission comes from people who are not having symptomatic outbreaks," says Jeanne Marrazzo, MD, an STD specialist at the University of Washington medical school.
New treatment options
There didn't used to be very much you could do about a herpes outbreak, other than to wait it out and take sitz baths. But now there are several antiviral drugs available that reduce the intensity and duration of symptoms, and, if taken daily, can also reduce the frequency of outbreaks. And in July 2006, the FDA approved Famvir as the first one-day treatment of symptomatic herpes.
If you're taking one of the antiherpes drugs now available, you're less likely to transmit the virus to someone else. (Condoms can help prevent transmission of the herpes virus, but they aren't 100% effective since the virus can be on parts of the genital area that are not covered.)