Q: Will a herpes outbreak go away on its own, like common cold sores do? What are the risks of not taking medication?

A: There are two herpes viruses. Herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) is the classic cause of cold sores, while HSV-2 has been the major cause of genital herpes. Recently, however, many cases of genital herpes have been caused by HSV-1.

Whether caused by type 1 or 2, the first bout of genital herpes can be quite nasty. You may have painful blisters, swollen lymph glands, painful urination, fever, and muscle aches. Without treatment, these symptoms generally clear up in one to two weeks. Antiviral drugs such as Zovirax, Famvir or Valtrex can speed recovery. Taking an antiviral drug for several days will not prevent future outbreaks.

Up to 90 percent of people with genital herpes develop repeat attacks. They develop because HSV remains in the body permanently and can come to life and produce symptoms without any new sexual contact. Fortunately, the symptoms are milder and briefer than the initial attack. In addition, the likelihood of repeat attacks lowers over time.

Daily use of an antiviral drug can help prevent repeat attacks while the medication is being taken. Daily use also helps protect sexual partners who have never had herpes from contracting the virus.