Genital Herpes

Among the many sexually transmitted infections, genital herpes is very common; in the US, it is estimated that one in every 5 individuals is suffering from Genital Herpes. Genital Herpes is more common in women than in men. It is a viral infection caused by Herpes simplex virus type- 1 (HSV-1) or Herpes simplex virus type-2 (HSV-2) that spreads through sexual contact. The infection caused by HSV-2 is more common than HSV-1.

Infection caused by both HSV-1 and HSV-2 do not show any signs or symptoms initially; when it shows the symptoms appear like one or more small blister around the genitals or rectum. You need to educate yourself about the ways to identify and treat Genital Herpes in order to effectively prevent it.

Transmission and cause of Genital Herpes

Genital Herpes is a sexually transmitted infection that spreads through close contact with infected person, and mostly while sexual contact. The virus actually gains entry into your body through a break in the moist skin of penis, vagina, cervix, urinary opening, or anus during vaginal, oral, or anal sex. Genital Herpes are known for the sores that they cause near lips, genitals, and anus. Direct contact with these sores also spreads the infection.

HSV-2 infection spreads through sexual contact or skin-to-skin contact with a person who is already infected, regardless of the fact whether or not he has an open sore.

HSV-1 infections of the genitals are seen as fever blisters or cold sores in and around the mouth and lips, and spreads during oral-genital or genital-genital contact with an infected person. Apart from the genital organs, Herpes virus also affects your mouth, lips, tongue, eyes, gums, and fingers. You can infect yourself, if you touch the sore and then rub or scratch any other part of your body, especially eyes.

People at risk

Anybody who is sexually active can be infected with herpes virus. People who have unprotected sex, and who have more than one sex partners are at greater risk. Studies show that genital herpes is more common in US. About 16.2% (one out of six) are affected with HSV-2 infection. HSV-2 is more common in women between the age group 14-49 years than in men within the same age group. Transmission is most likely from an infected male partner to his female partner than vice versa.

Once the virus gains entrance into your body you may face many stages of infection.

  • Primary stage: This stage starts 2 to 8 days after infection. You will notice small group of painful blisters near your genital region. The blisters are filled with clear or cloudy fluid that breaks open and becomes open sores. Sometime you may have fever and other flu-like symptoms. Most people do not experience any of these symptoms and may not even have the slightest hint that they are infected.
  • Latent stage: During this stage you will have no symptoms as the virus is busy travelling from your skin to the nerves near your spine.
  • Shedding stage: Again a non-symptomatic stage where the virus multiplies in the nerve cells and starts invading the saliva, vaginal fluid or semen.
  • Recurrences: The blisters and sores come back after the first attack. But the symptoms are not as worse as in it was in the first attack.

Genital Herpes does not show any signs and symptoms. Someone who is infected might never show any sores. However, if signs and symptoms show up they are well noticed. You may experience the following signs. They are:

  • Pain and itching followed by sore in the buttocks, vagina, scrotum, penis, and anus. The sores usually disappear within 2 to 4 weeks.
  • If the sores are open, there could be oozing out with fluid or blood from the sore.
  • It could be painful to urinate, along with tenderness and pain in the genital area.
  • Some people may also have flu-like symptoms, which causes fever, chills, fatigue, head ache and swollen lymph nodes.
  • There could be pain in lower back, thighs, buttocks, or knees.
  • In recurrent infection the symptoms are milder and the sores disappear faster.

If you notice or suspect any of these symptoms contact your doctor for proper diagnosis as many other complications also results in such similar symptoms.

Herpes virus can be diagnosed using the sample taken from the sores, which are later cultured to check the growth of the virus. A positive test confirms Herpes but a negative test does not rule out the presence of the virus. Blood test is done to detect the presence antibodies that are produced against the virus.

Genital Herpes cannot be cured. The virus remains in latent stage in the nerve cell and wakes up if something triggers it like – stress, illness, surgery, monthly periods, vigorous sex, and diet.

Medication, of course can help you a lot. Medicine like acyclovir reduces the pain and heals the sore faster. It also lessens the number of recurrence. These are the herpes simplex virus treatment. Acyclovir creams are available that can be applied on the sores. Recurrence of Herpes is treated by famciclovir and valacyclovir. In severe cases, hospitalization and intravenous medications are necessary.

Pain is a troublesome symptom of Herpes. To soothe the pain caused by infection you need to follow certain tips

  • Taking an aspirin, or acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help reduce pain
  • Keep lukewarm water on the sore or take bath in lukewarm water
  • Clean the affected area and dry it properly
  • Wear loose cotton under wears
  • If blisters are broken wash the area with mild soap and water

Being diagnosed with Herpes gives a feeling of guilt and shame. You may be disappointed as your complete sex life is ruined, but remember you are not alone fighting Herpes; there are other million people struggling with it every day. If you are infected with Herpes inform this to your partner and have safer sex – use condoms. But the fact is no time is safer to have sex, if you are infected because unknowingly you might spread the infection to your partner. Avoid sex if you have sores, as sores invite AIDS virus. Remember, using condom only reduces the risk of spreading but does not give 100% protection.

Herpes infection during or before pregnancy should be discussed in detail with your health care provider as you may pass the infection to your unborn baby, which can cause brain injury or even death. Your baby is safe until it is in the uterus, but during delivery it has to pass through the birth canal that harbors the virus. Contact with the virus will infect your newborn also. Therefore, it is important that you inform your doctor in advance, so that he might decide on a cesarean delivery.

Don’t be disheartened if you have Genital Herpes, talk to your doctor as there are millions out juggling with the same. There are many support groups which would like to educate you and help you carry on with a normal life. Manage your stress and live a healthy life, which will help you to cope with the condition.