Genital Herpes: Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

Overview

Genital herpes is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). HSV has two types, HSV-1 and HSV-2. Most people have no or mild symptoms.

Some patients have small blisters which can break open to form painful ulcers. The symptoms usually last up to 4 weeks after onset. Sexual contact is the primary way that the virus spreads. After the initial infection, the virus hides in the body and can recur several times a year.

Genital herpes is more common in women than men. One in five women at the age of 14 to 49 have genital herpes, while one in ten men ages 14 to 49 have genital herpes. Genital herpes is also more common in African-American women. According to data, one in two African-American women at the age of 14 to 49 have genital herpes caused by HSV-2.

Causes & Risk Factors

Genital herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV), including HSV-1 and HSV-2.

  • HSV-1 is the most often cause of mouth and lips infections, called old sores or “fever blisters.” It is often spread through skin-to-skin contact, while it can also spread to your genital area during oral sex. HSV-1 often leads to milder symptoms and less recurrences than those of HSV-2.
  • HSV-2 is the most common cause of genital herpes. It can spread through vaginal, oral, or anal sex. HSV-2 has high contagiousness, and can cause infections no matter whether you have an open sore or not. It can spread to the mouth during oral sex.

Because the virus dies quickly outside of the body, it’s nearly impossible to get the infection through contact with objects such as toilets, towels.

Other risk factors may include:

  • Be a woman. Women are more likely to have genital herpes than are men, especially African-American women.
  • Have multiple sexual partners.

Symptoms

Many people with HSV have no symptoms. But the symptoms of genital herpes may be severe when they hit for the first time. These symptoms may begin about two to 12 days after exposure to the virus and can last from two to four weeks.

Many symptoms of genital herpes may include:

  • A feeling of pressure in the abdomen.
  • Flu-like symptoms, including fever.
  • Itching or burning feeling in the genital or anal area.
  • Pain in the legs, buttocks, or genital area.
  • Swollen glands.
  • Unusual vaginal discharge.
  • Decreased appetite.
  • Small red bumps or tiny white blisters.
  • Ulcers. (These may form when blisters rupture and bleed. Ulcers usually crust over and heal in 7 to 14 days or more.)
  • Pain during urination.

Recurrences are common. Generally, the second outbreak appears weeks or months later. It is often less severe and can last shorter than the first outbreak. Some people experience numerous episodes each year, while most people experience an decreasing number of outbreaks as time passes.

Before the recurrence, you may feel:

  • Burning, tingling and itching where the infection first entered your body.
  • Pain in your lower back, buttocks and legs.

Generally, recurrences are less painful than the original outbreak, and sores generally heal more quickly.

Diagnosis

Doctors usually can diagnose genital herpes from the symptoms and the following tests results:

  • Viral culture. It is most useful during the first outbreak.
  • Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. It can test DNA to determine the presence and the type of HSV. This is the most accurate test to determine whether HSV is present in the blister.
  • Blood test. This can detect the presence of HSV antibodies in your blood and determine a past infection of HSV. It can also help diagnose HSV in women without symptoms.

Treatment

There is no cure for genital herpes currently. Doctors usually prescribe antiviral medications to:

  • Help sores heal sooner during an outbreak.
  • Lessen the severity and duration of symptoms in recurrent outbreaks.
  • Reduce the frequency of recurrence.
  • Minimize the chance of transmitting HSV to another.

Antiviral medications used for genital herpes include:

Your doctor may recommend you take the medicine only when you have symptoms of an outbreak. These medications usually have few side effects.

Complications

Complications related to genital herpes may include:

  • Other sexually transmitted infections.
  • Babies born to infected mothers can be infected during the birthing process.
  • Meningitis (rare).
  • Bladder problems.
  • Rectal inflammation (proctitis), especially in men who have sex with men.

Prevention

Some tips can be helpful to prevent the infections of HSV, including:

  • Use condoms.
  • Avoid intercourse if either partner has an outbreak of herpes in the genital area or anywhere else.
  • Limit the number of sexual partners.

Please consult your doctors for your symptoms and treatment.

Keywords: genital herpes; herpes simplex virus; HSV.

Latest

Aug 1, 2019

Investigators from Yale University have found the combination of a vaccine and a medicated cream is promising to dramatically reduce the recurrence of genital herpes.

The cream contains imiquimod, a medication commonly used to treat genital warts.

The vaccine generates a response to the virus from T cells, highly specialized immune cells.

The study was run on pigs, there’s no vaccine for human available yet.

However, the study showed that the effect of the combination therapy was far greater than either the vaccine or cream alone. One day when the vaccine for human is available, this combined therapy will relieve many people physcially and emotionally affected by the recurrent herps.

Related Posts:

What is Herpes Simplex Virus?

What is Oral Herpes?

Herpes Culture Test

Blood Test for HSV: IgG & IgM

Are There Any New Herpes Treatments?

* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.