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Every North American has had herpes of the mouth or genitals, but according to a new study in the American Journal of Epidemiology almost one percent of North Americans acquire new cases of recurrent genital herpes each year. That's 1,640,000 new cases of recurrent genital herpes. (730,000 men and 910,000 women). (1a)

One of eight Americans (30 million) has genital herpes, even though only one in five knows that he has it (1). Herpes is classified into type I that affects primarily the mouth/ and herpes type II that affects primarily the genitals, although both types can go both places. To get herpes, you need the virus and broken skin. Since rubbing breaks skin, sexual contact with infected partners causes herpes. Typically, a person develops grouped painful or itchy blisters or swelling, that look like poison ivy and disappear after one to six weeks. For some, genital herpes never recur, but almost all people who have a painful first episode will have recurrent blisters in exactly the same place (2). A person who has herpes can be contagious, even when there are no visible blisters. The only way to diagnose herpes is to have a culture done on a wet blister. There are no dependable blood tests to tell if you have herpes because more than 92% of all Americans have positive blood tests.

Almost all North Americans have had herpes, but only 7 percent get blisters recurrently. If you have had one bout of herpes, you do not need treatment. If you have fewer than four recurrent genital herpes attacks per year, your doctor will probably prescribe that you keep 21, 500-mg tablets of Famvir or Valtrex on hand all the time and take them at the first tingling or itching that precede an outbreak. If you have more than 3 attacks a year, your doctor will probably prescribe valtrex or Famvir, 500-mg once a day for several years (7,8). By the third year on that regimen, as many as 82% have no outbreaks at all. Exciting new research shows that taking acyclovir every day may prevent a person from being contagious (4). Valtrex and Famvir are both approved by the FDA for long-term use. Also see report #G300.

Checked 8/9/05

May 31st, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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