Understanding Genital Warts and Herpes - dummies

Understanding Genital Warts and Herpes

By Sabine Walter, Pierre A. Lehu

One out of four Americans between the ages of 15 and 55 will contract at least one sexually transmitted disease. The more you know, the more you can prevent this from happening to you. Below, two incurable diseases are discussed.

Genital warts

Nearly two million people in the United States are infected every year with genital warts, which are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). Genital warts are spread through vaginal, anal, and oral intercourse. They can also be passed on to infants during childbirth.

  • Not always able to be seen, the warts are soft and flat; they grow on the genitals, in the urethra, the inner vagina, the anus, or the throat.
  • The warts often itch and, if allowed to grow, can block openings of the vagina, anus, or throat, causing discomfort.
  • Because genital warts are often unseen, they can easily be passed onto sexual partners.

Genital warts can be treated in several ways, including topical medical creams. In cases of either large or persistent warts, other treatments may include surgical removal, freezing using liquid nitrogen, or cauterization by electric needles; however, the warts often recur.


Herpes, which is caused by the Herpes simplex virus (HSV), is another incurable STD. With half a million new cases reported each year, anywhere from 5 to 20 million Americans have been infected with this disease. Herpes actually has two forms: herpes-1 and herpes-2, although 1 is most often associated with cold sores and fever blisters “above the waist.”

The most common symptoms arise from a rash with clusters of white, blistery sores appearing on the vagina, cervix, penis, mouth, anus, or other parts of the body. This rash can cause pain, itching, burning sensations, swollen glands, fever, headache, and a run-down feeling. These symptoms may return at regular intervals, sometimes caused by stress, menstrual periods, or other reasons that are not well understood.

Most people think that herpes is contagious only when the sores are present, but studies have shown that some people may spread the disease even when they have no sores.

  • During pregnancy, herpes may cause miscarriage or stillbirth, and the disease can be passed on to newborns.
  • If the sores are active during childbirth, there are serious health consequences for the babies. To avoid these consequences, cesarean sections are usually performed when active sores are seen during the time of childbirth.
  • If you have herpes, you should always use a condom when having sex, unless your partner already has the disease.

Although you should always use a condom, you should know that condoms can’t entirely protect you from herpes. If the man has the disease, and the only sores are on his penis, then a condom can protect the woman. However, because vaginal secretions may leak over the pelvic area not protected by the condom, the condom does not protect men as much.

Herpes can spread beyond genital contact, including to other parts of the already-infected person’s body. If you touch a herpes sore, always wash your hands thoroughly before touching anyone else or any other part of your body.

Be aware that oral herpes can be transmitted by kissing, sharing towels, or drinking from the same glass or cup.

Although herpes has no cure, it is important to see a doctor if you suspect that you have the disease. You should see a doctor both to make sure that herpes really is the cause of the symptoms and to learn how to live with herpes and not spread it to others. If you’re the infected person, the doctor can give you a set of rules to follow to help keep you from contaminating others or other parts of your body.