Genital herpes is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases resulting from two types of viral infections. These viruses include herpesvirus type 1 (HSV-1) and type 2 (HSV-2). The herpes virus responsible for genital herpes can spread through vaginal, oral or anal sex. This makes sexual contact the main means by which the infection spreads.
Research shows that one in five females between 14 – 49 years has genital herpes. No cure for herpes is available, but medications that can prevent herpes outbreak and reduce the risk of transmitting the infection are available. Even when the infection is present, the herpes virus can remain dormant in the body for several years and become active after some time.
The main cause of mouth infections is HSV-1. It also causes sores to appear on the lips and mouth. These sores are commonly known as fever blisters and present milder symptoms than genital herpes symptoms. HSV-1 can infect the genitals through oral sex. Sometimes, it results in genital herpes.
Genital herpes usually results from HSV-2 infection spread through vagina, anal or oral sex. HSV-2 can also affect the mouth through oral sex. The symptoms of genital herpes include itching and soreness in the genitals. After getting infected, you become contagious, which means a higher risk of spreading the virus to other people.
How is genital herpes transmitted?
The simple answer is through sex. Oral, vaginal and anal sex are common ways in which the infection or virus spreads. If you engage in unprotected sex with someone infected with genital herpes, you can contract the infection. If you don’t get infected through sex, you can contract the herpes virus through the following means.
- Herpes sores
- The skin on the genital or oral area, depending on the location of the herpes infection, is present
- Saliva or genital secretions
Most people infected with the herpes virus do not know they are infected, and even in this situation, you can contract the virus. You can only get infected from getting oral sex from someone infected with oral herpes. This means oral herpes isn’t contagious in other ways. For instance, you can’t contract herpes by touching towels, silverware soap, or touching toilet seats, beddings or using swimming pools used by an infected person.
Symptoms of genital herpes
Most people remain unaware when they get infected with the herpes virus because the symptoms are not visible, and even when present, the symptoms are mild. Symptoms may occur from 2 – 12 days after exposure to the virus.
These symptoms include:
- Ulcers- a blister can occur and rupture, then ooze pus or bleed, which later forms an ulcer. The ulcer usually makes urinating difficult.
- Scabs – after the ulcers heal, your skin becomes dry, forming a crust called scabs
- Pain or itching – tenderness or pain around the genital area may occur for a while in the genital area
- Small red bumps or white blisters – these symptoms usually appear a couple of days after infection occurs
Following an HSV-2 infection, the infected person may experience the following symptoms present during flu.
- Muscle pain
- Swollen glands around the underarms and pelvic area
- Body ache and tiredness
Oral herpes symptoms
Oral herpes does not cause severe illness, and the pain is mild. It may cause fever, blisters or sores close to the lips and mouth or in the mouth. The cold sores usually last for some weeks and disappear afterwards. These sores may cause slight discomfort for an adult but are life-threatening for babies.
Women may experience symptoms of oral herpes in their vaginal area, external genitals or cervix. For men, the symptoms appear in the scrotum or penis. Areas affected in men and women include buttocks, anus, mouth, thighs and urethra.
Treatment and prevention of genital herpes
No immediate treatment for genital herpes is available when an infection occurs. The virus can remain inactive in the body and appear as sores at any time. Prescription medications are available to prevent its transmission and reduce the risk of recurring outbreaks.
When taking these medications, you can aid healing and reduce the risk of transmitting the virus by doing the following.
- Avoid sex with a different person until you are fully healed
- Keeps the sores clean and dry
- Avoid touching the sores
- Wash your hands after touching the sores
- Use a barrier method during sex
Ensure you avoid sexual contact when the sores are present. Although using condoms can reduce the risk of herpes infection, this method isn’t full proof for preventing herpes infection because the skin surrounding the genital is also infectious. You may consider having an STD check after having sex with a new person.
What time is treatment administered?
When you have sores and get the first diagnosis for genital herpes, your doctor will administer antiviral therapy to prevent the infection from becoming worse. The doctor may administer the drugs for a longer time if they do not heal early. Following this, you have two options which include the following.
Your doctor can recommend having an antiviral medication in hand for when flare-ups occur. This is called intermittent therapy. You can take the piles for 2 – 5 days when the sores are coming in, or you notice a breakout. Although the sores can subside without treatment, they ensure proper management of the symptoms.
If your outbreaks are often, the doctor may recommend taking antiviral drugs daily called suppressive therapy. If the outbreaks occur more than six times a year, suppressive therapy can reduce the outbreaks by 70 – 80%.
No certain method is available for doctors to decide which genital herpes treatment is best. However, the doctor will recommend treatment based on when breakouts occur, including their severity.
Suppressive therapy administered daily can limit the risk of transmitting the virus to other people, and antiviral medications can prevent the shedding of the virus.
Complications of genital herpes
Genital herpes may result in different complications, including the following.
Herpes infection can cause inflammation of the cerebrospinal fluid. In rare cases, membranes around the brain and spinal cord may also become inflamed.
Mothers infected with HSV can transmit it to their babies during childbirth. This may lead to brain damage, mortality and blindness in the baby.
HSV infection can result in urethral swelling, preventing the body from expelling urine.
Inflammation of the rectum
Infection in the rectal lining can occur, especially in men who have sex with men.
- Other sexually transmitted infections
Herpes infection elevates the risk of getting and transmitting other STDs such as HIV.
Reducing the risk of getting genital herpes
Avoiding sex is the best way to prevent STDs. However, if you are sexually active, you may want to consider a long-term monogamous relationship with a partner who isn’t infected or uses latex condoms during sex, but note that herpes can still be transmitted from areas with no sores.
If your partner is infected, you may still be protected if your sex partner takes the medication daily, but you still need to exercise a little restraint during sex.
Recognising genital herpes symptoms
Herpes symptoms are mild, which makes many people unable to know when they are infected with herpes. When symptoms appear, they occur as sores in the genital, rectal or mouth areas. These sores burst and form blisters, leaving painful sores, an occurrence known as outbreaks.
Outbreaks may occur alongside swollen glands, body aches, fever or flu-like symptoms. Repeated outbreaks may occur, provided the virus is still in the body.
When symptoms are present, the doctor at the sexual health clinic can check them and collect samples from the visible sores for testing. A herpes blood test can check for antibodies produced to fight herpes infection. This test can help to check for infection and decide the best cause or treatment.
If an infected woman becomes pregnant, she needs to tell her doctor, but contracting herpes during pregnancy may be dangerous, leading to a miscarriage or early delivery. Genital herpes can transmitted during childbirth, the baby can have brain damage or eye problems.
Whether herpes sores are present during delivery, your doctor may recommend a C-section to ensure the baby is safe.
What will happen if I don’t receive treatment for herpes?
Genital herpes may cause painful sores, and if you touch the sores, it can get transferred to other parts of the body. The fluid secreted from herpes sores is contagious and transferable to sensitive body parts like the eyes, especially if you touch your eyes after touching your sores. If you touch the sores, ensure you wash your hands immediately.
Lifestyle tips for treating genital herpes
You can treat genital herpes with the following lifestyle tips
- Wear loose-fitting clothes to allow your skin to breathe
- Understand what causes a trigger and avoid them
- Avoid touching the sores
- Bathe with warm water to relieve the pain
- Use a different towel for cleaning the sores and another for other body parts
- Avoid ointments, but take oral herpes medications prescribed by the doctor
Although genital herpes has no cure, you can manage it with medications, hygiene and certain lifestyle changes. You can visit a private GP clinic in London if you think you’ve been exposed to herpes or experience herpes symptoms.
Contact Private GPs London now on 020 7359 9880 to schedule an appointment for testing and examination for genital herpes.