Genital Herpes

What is genital herpes?

Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV), which spreads primarily through sexual contact. After the initial infection, the virus remains dormant in your body and can reactive the outbreak several times a year.

When infected with genital herpes, you may experience pain, itching, and sores in your genital area. However, you may not have any signs or symptoms of genital herpes. If infected, you can still be contagious even if no sores are visible.

There is no preventive treatment for genital herpes, but medications can relieve symptoms and reduce the risk of infecting others. Condoms can prevent the spread of genital herpes infection.

What are the symptoms of genital herpes?

Most people with genital herpes do not know that they have the infection as they have no signs or symptoms or because their signs and symptoms are very mild.

It may take up to 2 to 12 days after exposure to the virus before the symptoms of genital herpes appear. If you have symptoms of genital herpes, they may include:

  • Pain or itching. You may experience pain and tenderness in the genital area until the infection clears.
  • Burning sensation during urination.
  • Unusual vaginal discharge in women.
  • Small red bumps or small white blisters, which appear a few days to a few weeks after infection.
  • Ulcers. These may form when blisters rupture or bleed, and they can be painful when you urinate.
  • Scabs. The skin will crust over and form a scab as the ulcer heals.

Sores appear on the area where the infection entered your body. The infection may spread by touching a sore and then rubbing or scratching another area of your body, including your eyes.

Men and women may develop sores on:

  • Buttocks and thighs
  • Anus
  • Mouth and lips
  • Urethra

Women may also develop sores in or on:

  • Vaginal area
  • External genital organs
  • Cervix

Men may also develop sores in or on:

  • Penis
  • Scrotum

What are the causes of genital herpes?

Two types of herpes simplex virus may cause genital herpes:

HSV-1

This type that usually causes cold sores usually spread through skin-to-skin contact. The recurrence of infection with this virus is considerably less than the recurrence of infection with HSV type 2 infection.

HSV-2

This type usually causes genital herpes and is spread during sexual contact and through skin contact. Herpes simplex virus type 2 is very common and highly contagious, whether you have open sores or not.

What are the risk factors of genital herpes?

Your risk of becoming infected with genital herpes may increase if you are a woman as the virus is sexually transmitted more easily from men to women than from women to men. However, having multiple sexual partners increases your risk of exposure to the virus that causes genital herpes.

What are the complications of genital herpes?

Complications associated with genital herpes may include:

Bladder problems

In some cases, the sores associated with genital herpes may cause infection around the urethra. Swelling can block the urethra for several days, which requires the insertion of a catheter to empty the bladder.

Meningitis

In rare cases, the herpes simplex virus causes inflammation of the membranes and cerebrospinal fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord.

Newborn infection

Infants born to mothers who have contracted genital herpes can be exposed to viruses during birth. The infection could lead to brain damage, blindness, or the death of the newborn

Other sexually transmitted diseases

Having genital sores increases your risk of contracting or transmitting sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS.

How to diagnose genital herpes?

The doctor usually diagnoses genital herpes after performing a physical examination and reviewing the results of the following laboratory tests:

Viral culture

This test involves extracting a sample of tissue or scraping off sores for examination in the laboratory.

Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test

The PCR test is used to copy DNA from a blood sample and tissue from an ulcer or spinal fluid. A DNA test can then be done to determine if you have HSV and which type of HSV you have.

Blood test

This test involves analyzing a blood sample to detect the presence of HSV antibodies, to detect a previous infection with herpes.

Other sexually transmitted diseases

Having genital sores increases your risk of contracting or transmitting sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS.

How to treat genital herpes?

There is no cure for genital herpes, but some medications can prevent or shorten outbreaks. Antiviral therapy may help:

  • Blisters heal fast 
  • Reduce the severity and duration of symptoms if herpes comes back
  • Decrease the possibility of transmitting the herpes virus to others
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