One of the most common STDs or sexually transmitted diseases is genital herpes. Caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus or HSV, Genital Herpes is as common as occurring one in every six people within the age group of 14 to 49 years. If one has vaginal or even oral sex with someone with genital herpes, the disease will be spread. The infection spreads as the fluids from the herpes sore, carrying the virus, comes in contact with another person. Even unknowingly, the virus can be spread from a person, who is not aware of this disease. About 32,279 people were found with this disease in England in the year 2013 and 45 million Americans over the age of 12 were diagnosed to have genital herpes. What is shocking is that about 80% of the people infected with HSV are unaware of their disease.

Genital Herpes

Definition of Genital Herpes:

Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease that is caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus or HSV, mainly of two types - HSV-1 and HSV-2.

Genital Herpes spreads from an infected person during sexual relationship and also through oral sex. Even if the infected person is unaware of the infection in him or her, the disease can be spread through skin, without any sexual relation, as Genital Herpes is highly contagious. If the pregnant mother has had the infection of genital herpes, it can pass on to the new born, during childbirth.

Symptoms of Genital Herpes:

Genital herpes symptoms or outbreaks are very common and largely seen to occur in infected people. However, sometimes the infected person does not have any symptoms at all or the symptoms can be so mild that it becomes quite difficult to determine the presence of the virus. After a person is exposed to the infected person's herpes sores, he or she too will experience symptoms. These can be –

  • Itching in the genitals, within two to ten days of the exposure
  • After the infection, tiny white blisters and red bumps will occur on the genitals
  • As the blisters ooze, ulcers can form
  • As the ulcers heal, scabs may form on the skin.

There are some more symptoms of genital herpes such as occurrence of sores in the mouth, buttocks and anus, both in men and women, who have engaged in any kind of unsafe sex with an infected person. Women can suffer sores in her cervix, external genitals and entire vagina; whereas, men can have sores on the penis, thighs, and scrotum as well as the channel connecting the bladder to the penis, known as urethra.

Along with these symptoms of genital herpes, some other symptoms that generally occur are fever, decreased appetite, feeling sick, swollenness of the groin and lymph nodes, tightness and pain in the muscles.

Causes of Genital Herpes

Causes of Genital Herpes:

Genital herpes is a disease in which the mucus membranes of the genitals and the skin around this area is infected by a virus called the Herpes Simplex Virus or HSV. It spreads during sexual intercourse in any form, from an infected person to one without this infection.

Genital Herpes is caused by two types of the Herpes Simplex Virus or HSV. They are –

  • Genital Herpes Caused by HSV-1: This is the type of HSV that causes blisters and sores in the mouth and lips. However, it can spread to the genitals from the mouth during oral sex. The recurrence of symptoms from this type of virus is less frequent than the HSV-2.
  • Genital Herpes Caused by HSV-2: This is the type of HSV that causes genital herpes. It can spread through the bodily secretions and through skin-to-skin contact or sexual contact. It is highly contagious and the most common cause of this disease.

The HSV cannot survive for long outside the body. Hence, it is very unlikely that the infection spreads from using the same towel, toilet or other items used by the infected person.

Genital Herpes and Pregnancy:

Genital herpes during pregnancy is a very difficult problem to deal with. Whether you already have the disease or acquire it for the first time during your pregnancy, it can cause serious problem for the baby. If the herpes gets passed on to your unborn child within the womb, it can cause an even deadlier disease, the neonatal herpes. Moreover, if you have the disease, it is very likely that your baby will receive the disease during the birthing process.

When in the womb, if the virus infects the child, the condition can lead to as severe a problem as miscarriage. The mother is then more susceptible to go for a premature childbirth. Even in that case, as the disease is passed on to the baby, the baby will encounter further difficulties such as blindness or brain damage and may even die.

If you have this disease or even if you are unaware that you have genital herpes or not, you need to consult with your doctor. If the doctor finds that the virus is present in your body, he will give you medicines to make sure that you do not encounter symptoms or the outbreak does not occur at least during the child birth process. Even if it does, the most likely way of having your child safe from the disease is to go for a C-section.

Prognosis of Genital Herpes:

The virus, once gets into the body, no medicine can cure it. The infection can recur and the outbreaks are frequent and occur several times in a year. However, treatments and medicines can decrease or lessen the frequency of occurrence or outbreak of the symptoms of Genital Herpes. Hence, over time, the patients under treatment are seen to become less likely to spread the disease as they themselves succeed to fight the virus. Yet, the virus stays within the body and cannot be eliminated completely.

Diagnosis of Genital Herpes:

The symptoms of genital herpes can easily distinguish this disease from others and the doctors can physically examine the disease. However, there are some other diagnostic tests that can help the doctor to clearly determine the disease. These tests are –

  • Viral culture: By scraping a sample of the sore or by collecting the fluid from the blisters, the presence of the HSV can be cultured and diagnosed in the laboratory.
  • PCR test or Polymerase chain reaction: In this test, a sample of your blood is collected from the sore or from the spinal fluid and the DNA is tested to check for the presence of HSV and its type.
  • Blood test: Even if you do not have the symptoms or outbreaks, if you previously have had the infection that can be tested by this simple blood test, where the presence of the HSV antibody would show the presence of the HSV in the past.

Treatment and Cure for Genital Herpes:

Genital herpes has no cure and once an individual gets infected with this HSV or Herpes Simplex Virus, it will persist forever within the body. The virus outbreaks its symptoms at times and then it will disappear automatically, with the potential of recurring back. The treatments that are offered to the person infected with Genital Herpes are given to manage the symptoms and decrease the frequency of recurring back.

Medications that are given to prevent the symptoms or decrease the severity of Genital Herpes include the antiviral medicines like Acyclovir, Valacyclovir and Famciclovir. These medicines help the sores to heal sooner, reduce the frequency of recurrence and also decrease the chance of transmitting the virus to others.

Prevention of Genital Herpes:

Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease and hence, having sexual intercourse, oral or anal sex is the most common way of acquiring and spreading the disease. Hence, it is very important that when the symptoms outbreak, you do not have any sexual relation with an infected partner. Limiting the sexual activity to an uninfected person is the best way to prevent Genital Herpes from occurring. If, you are having sex with a partner infected with Genital Herpes, it is very crucial that you use latex condom during each and every time of your sexual intercourse. Even oral sex is not recommended if your sex partner has mouth sores due to HSV. It must be kept in mind that only latex condoms can prevent this disease and no other kind of condoms such as the animal membrane condoms can prevent it. Moreover, having one sex partner also decreases your chance of getting the disease as you might not be aware always whether the partner has or had the disease.

Coping with Genital Herpes:

Finding that you have been diagnosed with genital herpes can be distressing and you will find that anger persists due to a sense of inability to have a regular sexual life ahead. However, with taking the pills, the frequency and intensity of the symptoms can be decreased to a great extent. With the use of condom, the normal sex life can be maintained, with the factor in mind that at the time of the outbreak, there should be no sexual intercourse at all. The sex partners can always choose to have mutual masturbation, where you will mutually masturbate each other manually.

If you are a woman and have this disease, it is very important that you do not indulge in douche. This is because douche can take and spread the disease up to the genital tracts. The more you can prevent the genital fluid to reach or come to contact with other body parts, the more you are likely to lessen the intensity of the disease. Otherwise, taking regular pills will make sure that the symptoms are well managed and do not recur frequently.

Genital herpes is a very common disease that is not life threatening. However, it cannot be cured completely; rather it stays with you for the rest of your life, once it has occurred. With proper treatments and medicines, its extent can be reduced and a normal life can be led.

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD, FFARCSI

Last Modified On: October 13, 2016

Pain Assist Inc.

Pramod Kerkar
  Note: Information provided is not a substitute for physician, hospital or any form of medical care. Examination and Investigation is necessary for correct diagnosis.

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