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Treatment Issues for Women

By Angela Garcia, Jennifer McGaugh, Heidi Nass, Cathy Olufs and Claire Rappoport

November 2002


Many positive women have problems with genital herpes, an infection caused by a virus (called herpes simplex virus) that lives inside nerve cells. Since herpes is transmitted through skin to skin contact, condoms don't always protect you from infection during sex. You can get herpes sores on your labia, butt, or the area between your vagina and anus. If you develop any pain, ulcers or sores, be sure to see your GYN. Your provider may take a small fluid sample from the area of your sore to try to grow herpes virus in a culture.

Once you have it, herpes is usually present for life. Sores can be treated using antiviral drugs, but the body rarely gets rid of the virus itself. Like other GYN conditions, herpes symptoms can reflect the status of your immune system. If your immune system's weakened, herpes virus can be reactivated, and you may develop painful sores. Herpes outbreaks can occur more frequently in positive women and are sometimes more difficult to treat. Herpes sores that persist for over one month are linked to severe immune weakness and are an AIDS-defining illness.

There are several different antiviral treatments for herpes, including Zovirax (acyclovir), Valtrex (valacyclovir), and Famvir (famciclovir). These drugs come in pill, gel, and cream form, in a variety of doses. Treatment can help with sores, manage the pain, and, hopefully, delay additional flare-ups. For severe and painful sores, your GYN can prescribe a lidocaine ointment or a numbing gel such as Neosporin Plus. Many women find that applying a facial clay directly to the sores can also help ease the pain.

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