Is genital herpes bothering you or affecting your sex life? Then, relax! Treatment options and preventive measures exist to help you sort out the problem and live your everyday life.
Genital herpes is a contagious and widespread infection caused by the herpes simplex virus or HSV. There exist two types of HSV infection, type 1 and type 2. Type 1 typically causes mouth blisters or cold sores but can also infect the genital area. Type 2 causes most genital herpes cases. It may spread through oral, anal, or vaginal sex. Hence, sexual contact is the core reason for its spread.
Approximately One out of every five women between the ages of 14-49 face genital herpes. There is no cure for herpes, yet you may take medication to prevent an outbreak and lessen the risk of transmitting it to your sexual partners. The virus may lie dormant for many years if the body is infected and resurface anytime.
Keep going through the article and learn more about Genital Herpes.
HSV-1 and HSV-2
HSV-1 is the most common cause of infection in the mouth and appears as sores on lips and the mouth. They are also known as fever blisters. Symptoms may be milder than that of Genital Herpes. However, it can spread to the genitals via oral sex and cause genital herpes.
HSV-2 is a primary cause of genital herpes and is spread through oral, anal, or vaginal sex. In addition, it can spread to the mouth through oral sex. Genital Herpes may cause soreness and itching in the genital areas. Once infected, the host may be contagious.
How Is Genital Herpes Transmitted?
Mostly, people get genital herpes from having sex with someone already infected. The virus gets to settle in a nerve in your body and remains there forever. Condoms are not a complete barrier as the virus and lesions may also be on the thighs and buttocks.
Sex, either anal, vaginal, or oral, is one way the virus or infection spreads. If you have unprotected sex with anyone with this disease, you may get it. If you aren’t affected, you may still get infected if you contact the virus by:
- Herpes sore
- Genital secretions or saliva
- The skin on your oral or genital area, depending on where the sexual partner has herpes
The concern with herpes is that people may not know they are infected, and you may get this infection from them. One can also get it by having oral sex with a person with oral herpes. However, this infection is not contagious in any other way. For example, you will not get herpes by touching soap, towels, or silverware or contacting bedding, swimming pools, or toilet seats.
Infection with herpes simplex virus (HSV) causes genital herpes, commonly HSV type 2 and now increasingly type 1. A person may catch HSV-1 and HSV-2 infections from contact with infectious secretions on oral, genital, or anal mucosal surfaces. You may also see genital herpes by contacting lesions from other anatomical sites like the eyes and non-mucosal surfaces like herpetic whitlow on fingers or from lesions on the buttocks and trunk.
What Are the Symptoms of Genital Herpes?
Many people never have any symptoms and don’t know they have caught herpes until their first outbreak. Symptoms of a first outbreak are pain and itching on the lips or genital area. During the first outbreak of genital herpes, there may be a discharge from the vagina, feeling of pressure in the abdomen, headache, fever, and difficulty urinating. The first outbreak is the most prolonged and painful. It usually lasts several days or weeks.
HSV infection begins as small red bumps, which later develop into blisters. The blisters then turn into painful open sores. After many days, the sores disappear completely. About 50% of people with the first outbreak of herpes will be likely to have more blisters. These outbreaks are usually mild and short and disappear in 7-10 days. Symptoms vary from person to person. Some people may experience one or two outbursts in a lifetime, but others may have many per year. The cause of repeated outbreaks is not known. Emotional stress, illness, fatigue, and menstruation may trigger them. As time goes on, the number of these outbreaks usually decreases.
Many people are unaware of when they get infected with HSV as the symptoms aren’t visible or are very mild. However, the symptoms may appear 2-12 days post-exposure, and they are:
- Ulcers – When a blister bleeds or ruptures and oozes pus, it becomes an ulcer. The person might find it difficult to urinate.
- Scabs – As the ulcer heals, the skin dries and typically forms a crust called scabs.
- Itching or pain – An infected person may feel pain and tenderness in the genital area until it all clears up.
- Small red bumps or white blisters– these symptoms usually appear a few days after an infection occurs.
- The lesions occur on the prepuce and subpreputial areas of the penis in men.
- In women, the lesions occur on the vulva, vagina, and cervix.
A person infected by HSV-2 infection may also have a few flu-like symptoms such as:
- Tiredness and body ache
- Swollen glands in the underarms or pelvic area
- Muscle pain
Symptoms of Oral Herpes
Oral Herpes doesn’t make you too sick, and it is less painful as well. Instead, sores or fever blisters appear near the mouth and lips or inside the mouth. These cold sores may last a few weeks and then gradually disappear. These sores are annoying for adults but may be harmful to babies.
Women usually see symptoms in the cervix, vaginal area, or external genitals. In contrast, men see it on the penis or scrotum. In addition, common body areas such as the mouth, anus, urethra, buttocks, and thighs are affected in both men and women.
Treating and preventing Genital Herpes
Once you get genital herpes, there isn’t a quick way to treat it. It may remain dormant in you and reappear one day as sores. There are prescription medicines to prevent transmission and reduce the likelihood of recurrence. Unfortunately, no cure exists at this time. Doctors may prescribe antiviral drugs to shorten and prevent outbreaks, including acyclovir, famciclovir, and valacyclovir. You may be prescribed antiviral medicines when the symptoms appear or daily to help prevent recurrent episodes.
Over-the-counter pain medicine, like acetaminophen or topical preparations, may relieve discomfort. A person with genital herpes may promote healing and reduce the risk of infection transmission by:
- Avoiding sexual contact with a different person unless fully healed
- Not touching sores
- Keeping sores dry and clean
- Washing hands after handling the sores
- Using a condom as a barrier or protection during sex
Try to avoid sexual contact when sores are there. The use of condoms does reduce the risk of infection. Still, as the skin around the genitals is also infectious, this may not be a foolproof way. Doctors usually recommend checks after having sexual contact with a new partner.
Treatment Stages for Genital Herpes
When you experience sores or are diagnosed with genital herpes, the doctor will put you on antiviral therapy to stop the sores from worsening. However, the doctor may prescribe drugs for longer if the sores still prevail and show no healing.
The doctor may prescribe you antiviral medicine to keep in hand in case of a flare-up soon. This is known as intermittent therapy. You may take the pills for 2-5 days when you feel the sores are coming or see them breaking out. Sores can heal themselves, but the drugs will manage symptoms well.
If a person often experiences an outbreak of sores, he should consider taking daily antiviral drugs. This is what doctors call suppressive therapy. If you experience more than six outbreaks in a year, this treatment may reduce it by 75-80%.
There is no tested or tried rule that doctors follow to treat genital herpes. Still, it is more based on the time the breakouts occur and their severity. Daily suppressive therapy may reduce the risk of transmission to others, and antiviral drugs prevent viral shedding.
DOs and DON’Ts in Managing Genital Herpes
- Always take medication as prescribed.
- Keep the infected area clean and dry.
- Avoid touching the sores.
- If you touch the sores, wash your hands immediately to avoid spreading the infection to another part of your body or someone else.
- Tell your sexual partners if you have symptoms for the first time.
- Never try to pick at the sores; this may cause them to become infected.
- Your sexual partner must not come in direct contact with sores.
- Avoid sex during an outbreak to avoid infecting your partner.
- Genital herpes is the basic and primary cause of genital ulcers worldwide.
- Many patients with genital herpes have no symptoms and shed the virus intermittently in the genital tract.
- Counselling patients and their sexual partners are crucial in managing genital herpes.
- Doctors recommend Caesarean section for all pregnant women presenting with a first episode of genital herpes after 34 weeks gestation.
- Genital herpes caused by HSV-2 infection doubles the risk of acquiring HIV infection via sexual transmission.
- People with HSV or HIV must follow suppressive antiviral therapy for genital herpes.
Lifestyle Tips for Treating Genital Herpes
- Wear loose well-fitting clothes to let your skin breathe
- Do not touch your sores
- Understand your trigger points and take care of them
- Use different towels for cleaning your sores and the rest of your body
- Shower with warm water to relieve pain
- Avoid using ointments and instead take oral medications
Since you cannot cure genital herpes, you can manage it with lifestyle changes, hygiene, and medication. However, people must be careful to ensure that the infection doesn’t spread and continue to live healthy everyday lives.