International Herpes Week (12-18 November)

International Herpes Week (12-18 November)

Dr Feelgood issues society challenge to destigmatise herpes down under

"Start talking and shake the social stigma attached to herpes down under" is the public health challenge being issued to the Australian community today by an Australian GP well-versed in "pillow talk".

Media medic, Dr Sally Cockburn / aka Dr Feelgood has joined forces with two leading herpes organisations - the International Herpes Management Forum (IHMF) and the International Herpes Alliance (IHA) - to launch a global, on-line survey during International Herpes Week (12-18 November) which is designed to produce a better understanding of herpes and its management.

Given that eight out of 10 people have Herpes Type 1 (which commonly takes the form of a cold sore around the mouth) and approximately two in 10 people have Herpes Type 2 (which commonly takes the form of genital herpes), the time has arrived to start openly addressing herpes as a public health issue and removing the stigma attached to it.

According to Dr Feelgood, "The survey will offer Australians with herpes an anonymous voice to express their fears and key challenges in managing this common infection in a unique, on-line forum. The information collected will provide people with genital herpes and healthcare providers world-wide with information about how to improve the management of this condition".

To complete the survey, people must visit The results of the survey will be collated and released at the IHA Congress overseas next year.

Dr Feelgood cites much of the anxiety associated with genital herpes is closely linked to the social stigma attached to the condition. Those diagnosed with herpes are often afraid of rejection and therefore refrain from discussing it with their friends and potential partners.

"It's tragic that the same virus can cause so much emotional upset simply depending on what part of the body it affects. A cold sore near the mouth is considered a nuisance, but genital herpes can affect people's whole way of viewing themselves and others. I know people who deliberately avoid establishing close relationships rather than discussing genital herpes with a new partner. These people are often unaware that good treatment options exist, but are too embarrassed to talk to their doctor or get a proper diagnosis".

Dr Feelgood claims herpes picked up a bad reputation in the 1980's, before the introduction of antiviral medications. However, it is time we moved on and realised that with modern treatment, the stigma is often worse than the condition itself.

"Sure genital herpes is an infection and it's sexually transmitted, but with good treatment and safe sex practices, it should attract no more emotional response than its cousin, the cold sore", she said.

Herpes Simplex is a common skin infection. There are two common sub-types of the virus - Type 1 and Type 2.

"Don't believe the myth about herpes that says Type 1 only affects people above the waist. Giving your partner oral sex with an active cold sore can give them genital herpes. It's the same virus, just a different location. While Herpes Type 1 is the most common cause of cold sores and Type 2 the most common cause of genital herpes, this is not exclusively the case. "

"I therefore challenge everyone to learn more about herpes. To discuss it openly with friends and encourage those affected to join a herpes support group", said Dr Feelgood.

According to Melbourne sexual health practitioner, Dr Ian Denham, people with genital herpes are extremely concerned about passing it on to their partner. "People with herpes think there is a 100 per cent probability that they will pass their condition onto someone. But if a person is taking their medication and practising safe sex, their risk of passing herpes onto another is low. It's all about learning how to manage the condition."

"Regrettably, of the 10-to-20 per cent of adults who have genital herpes, more than 75 per cent do not receive appropriate treatment because they do not realise they have the infection or have not been properly diagnosed," said Dr Denham.

Signs of herpes can range from blisters and sores to rashes and small cuts. Symptoms usually include itching, tingling and local pain. Because the symptoms vary significantly from person-to-person, herpes often goes unrecognised by both the patient and doctor.

Because herpes is highly contagious, the virus may be transmitted even when those infected do not show physical signs or symptoms. The virus can be shed from the body through the skin around the genital area or saliva, even when there are no apparent symptoms. While a condom cannot offer complete protection against transmission, it should certainly be used as a precautionary measure.

Although there is no cure for genital herpes, recent advances in antiviral medications can help to control symptoms and reduce the frequency of outbreaks and viral shedding. These medications can be taken either episodically when outbreaks occur or daily as suppressive oral treatment to reduce the number of outbreaks experienced.

According to Dr Denham, "Taking anti-viral medication twice a day to control herpes outbreaks may be more effective than taking the medication only once a day. Suppressive treatment may also help to reduce the anxiety some people feel in wondering when they will experience their next herpes outbreak".

Those who suspect they may have the symptoms of genital herpes or are at risk of infection should see their doctor for professional advice and diagnosis or call 1800 800 145 for an information booklet. To obtain further information about genital herpes, see your doctor.

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