Genital Herpes

1 What is Genital Herpes?

Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection that affects both males and females. The disease is characterized by pain, itching and sores in the genital area. Sometimes, there may be no symptoms of the genital herpes.

However, when infected, you become contagious even in the absence of visible sores. This disease is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). It is transmitted and spread primarily through sexual contact. It is known that after the first transmission, the virus lays dormant in your system and can reactivate several times leading to the recurrence of the infection in a year.


Genital herpes has no cure. Medications only serve to ease the symptoms and can reduce the risk of infecting other people. Protection using condoms helps prevent transmission of the virus. 

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2 Symptoms

Many people suffering from genital herpes often do not know they have the infection since it does not come with the signs or symptoms. However, when present, it is very mild. But when present, the signs may be in the form of pain and itching which starts about 10 days after exposure to an infected sexual partner.

  • It starts by producing small red bumps or tiny white blisters which occur after several days.
  • Ulcers form when the blisters ruptures later and blood ooze out and scabs form as the ulcer heal. The ulcer may become very painful to urinate.
  • Pain and tenderness may also be felt in the genital area till when the infection will clear.
  • It may also present with flu like sign and symptom during an initial outbreak of HSV.
  • The lymph nodes may also get swollen in your groin, headache, muscles aches and fever.

There are however differences in the symptoms in the location of the sores. The sores may appear after the infection has also already penetrated the body. The infection can also be spread by touching the sore and then rubbing or scratching of other parts of your body even the eyes. For men and women, the sores can develop in the buttocks, anus and even mouth.

Women may develop sores on the vaginal areas, external genitals and cervix. Men develop sores in or the penis, scrotum, thighs, urethra, channel inside the pennis to the bladder.

Recurrence of the genital herpes is common and is different from person to person. Signs and symptoms may occur and recur off and on for several years. Sometime before the recurrence, a person may feel a tingling or itching sensation at the region where the place where the infection first entered the body.

One may also feel pain at the lower back, buttocks and legs. Recurrence is often less painful the first time it affects you. The sores also heal very quickly. It is recommended that you see a doctor when you suspect you have genital herpes. 

3 Causes

There are two types of herpes simplex virus infections which may cause genital herpes:

  • HSV-1
  • HSV-2

HSV-1 is a type of virus that leads to the formation of cold sores or fever, blisters around the mouth. It can also be spread to the area of the genitals especially during the oral sex. Recurrences are less frequent when compared to HSV-2 infection.

On the otherhand, HSV-2 infection also causes genital herpes. It spreads through the sexual contact and skin to skin contact. This is very common compared to HSV-1 and it is also very contagious irrespective of the presence or absence of an open sore.

However, the virus dies very fast when outside of the body. It may therefore not be possible to be spread when in contact with the toilets, towels or other objects used by someone who is infected. 

4 Making a Diagnosis

Normally, diagnosis of genital herpes is done on the basis of the physical exam or test results will be used to confirm the findings.

When you discover that you have genital herpes or other sexually transmitted disease or illness the first step should be to visit your doctor. Make an appointment with you family doctor or gynecologist.

Several things can be done before seeing your doctor: find the solutions to the following questions:

  • what are the symptoms you are experiencing?
  • When did you not them?
  • Do you have a sexual partner or multiple sexual partners?
  • Have you ever been diagnosed of a sexually transmitted disease or infection?
  • Do you use condoms regularly?
  • What medications have you used previously; vitamins or supplements?

When the appointment has materialized, there are several questions one may need to ask the doctor, such as;

  • what test are required to be done?
  • Is there need to be tested for other STIs?
  • How do I prevent infecting my partner?

Similarly, you will also expect several questions from your doctor.

  • Are you experiencing pelvic pain?
  • Do you feel pain when passing urine?
  • Do you have sores or unusual discharge when passing urine?

Tests for diagnosing genital herpes may include: viral culture to test for the presence of HSV in a sample of tissue scraped from the sores for analysis. Polymerase chain reaction can also be used as a test procedure. This technique is applied in order to copy your DNA from a sample of your tissue and tissue from the sore or spinal fluid. The DNA will then be tested to establish presence of HSV antibodies from the previous infections. 

5 Treatment

There's no cure for genital herpes, however treatment with prescription antiviral medications may:

  • Help sores heal sooner during an initial outbreak.
  • Lessen the severity and duration of symptoms in recurrent outbreaks.
  • Reduce the frequency of recurrence Minimize the chance of transmitting the herpes virus to another.

Antiviral medications used for genital herpes include: Acyclovir (Zovirax) Famciclovir (Famvir) Valacyclovir (Valtrex). Your doctor may recommend that you take the medicine only when you have symptoms of an outbreak or that you take a certain medication daily, even when you have no signs of an outbreak.

6 Prevention

The strategy used for prevention of genital herpes is the same as those used for preventing other sexually transmitted diseases.

It is recommended that one needs to abstain from sexual activity, limit the sexual contact, use or have your partner use a latex condom. Avoid sex when a partner has herpes infection in the genital area or at any part of the body.

In case you are pregnant and know that you have herpes simplex, understand that you need to inform your doctor. Always ask to be tested.

You may be advised to use herpes antivirals medications late in case of pregnancy so as to prevent an outbreak late during delivery. An outbreak during labor may require that you undergo a cesarean section so as to reduce the risk of transmitting and infecting the virus to the baby. 

7 Lifestyle and Coping

Lifestyle modifications are necessary in order to cope with genital herpes.

It is very embarrassing to find out that you have genital herpes. It may cause share, anger and other kinds of emotions. It may lead to resentment to you partner and may fear rejection by your partner or future partners. These feelings are normal and there are healthy ways of coping with genital herpes. Have proper communication with your partner.

Always be open and honest about your feelings. Trust and believe your partner and what she or he tells you. Never shift blame. Moreover, understand that the genital herpes can lie dormant in your body for years and it may be difficult to know whether you were infected. Seek for more information over the disease from your doctors or counselors so as to live with the condition and minimize the chances of infecting other people. Understand your treatment options. Join support groups in your region or online groups. This will help you know your feelings and learn from other people experiences. 

8 Risks and Complications

There are several factors that increase your risk of becoming infected with genital herpes:

  • First, the risks are higher if you are a woman. The women are more predisposed to the virus compared to men. It is very easily transmitted from men to women that from women to men.
  • When you also have multiple sexual partners, every additional sexual partner is a risk to being exposed to the virus.

Complications may include:

The proneness to the other sexually transmitted diseases. Presence of genital sores increases the risk of transmitting or contracting the STIs including AIDS.

It can also lead to newborn infections: babies that are born from infected mothers expose them to the virus during delivery. This may lead to the damage of the brain, blindness or even death of the newborn. It may also lead to bladder problems.

Sore associated with genital herpes may be caused by inflammations around the tube which delivers urine from the bladder to the urethra. As a result of the swelling, the urethra may be closed for several days leading to the need for the insertion of catheter so as to drain the bladder.

It has also been associated with Meningitis, though rarely, since HSV can lead to the inflammation of the meninges membrane and the cerebrospinal fluid which surrounds the brain and the spinal cord. Inflammation of the rectum may also occur. It is referred to as proctitis which is a condition associated with the inflammation of the lining of the rectum, more especially in men that have sex with other men.

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