Last Updated December 20th, 2021
Genital herpes is a common sexually transmitted disease (STD). The agent responsible for it is the herpes simplex virus. Any sexually active person is at a risk of contracting genital herpes although the infection can easily go undetected. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that as many as 87.4% of individuals with the HSV-2 infection between the ages of 14 and 49 in the United States have never received a formal diagnosis. This means that a majority of individuals carrying the virus are unaware that they can infect others.
What Is Genital Herpes?
Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection that is caused by either of the herpes simplex virus types 1 or 2. Transmission of this viral infection usually occurs through vaginal, oral or anal intercourse. This disease can affect either sex. Most people with the infection remain asymptomatic or experience subclinical symptoms. However, they are still capable of transmitting the virus to others.
In instances where infection succeeds in producing symptoms, the patient typically experiences outbreaks of fluid-filled blisters and painful sores in the skin and mucous membranes of the genitals. One should avoid touching the fluid oozing from these blisters to ensure that the infection does not spread to other parts of the body.
What Is Responsible For Genital Herpes?
The herpes simplex virus is acquired by means of contact with the genital secretions, oral secretions (in case of HSV-1), skin and mucous membranes of an infected individual. It gains entry into the body through small breaks or cuts in the skin after which it migrates into the nervous tissue. When one’s immune system is robust, the virus remains under control and the infection fails to produce noticeable symptoms.
However, immunity can weaken during periods of emotional stress or trauma. When conditions are right, the virus reactivates and travels back to the skin from where it can be shed and transmitted to other individuals. At this stage, it is capable of producing ulcerative disease. Hence, the period between infection and onset of symptoms is highly variable. If symptoms appear soon after infection, they are more likely to be severe.
Causes and risk factors for genital herpes include:
- Engaging in sexual intercourse with a person carrying the infection.
- Having unprotected sexual intercourse. Make it a practice to use condoms every time. Here is a quick buy.
- Having multiple sexual partners.
- Becoming sexually active at a younger age.
- Having weak immunity. Boost your immunity with this great natural blend of essential oils. Buy these softgels now.
- Being female is a significant risk factor since women are more likely to get the infection and to suffer severe symptoms and complications.
What Symptoms Does It Produce?
Those who have the infection are not always aware of it. This is because it usually remains asymptomatic or displays only very subtle symptoms. The typical indication of genital herpes is the appearance of fluid-filled blisters in areas such as the vagina or penis. When these blisters rupture, they leave behind painful sores which can take weeks to form scabs and heal fully. This may be accompanied by flu-like symptoms such as fever and other typical signs of infection.
The first such outbreak is likely to be more intense than subsequent ones. The frequency and intensity of outbreaks are highest during the first year following infection. The number, frequency, and severity of outbreaks tend to reduce progressively thereafter. Later outbreaks may involve only some itching and mild irritation. Typical symptoms include:
- Blisters, usually in the vagina, rectum or penis. These may be present in the urethra as well. Blisters can also appear on other parts of the body which come into contact with fluid from the genital blisters. In this way, the infection can spread locally to the groin, inner thigh, and buttocks but also as far as the eyes. This gives rise to ulceration in these areas and the eyes can even suffer permanent damage.
- Itching in the affected areas.
- Pain while passing urine, as a result of blisters in the urethra.
- Body aches.
- Swollen lymph glands
- A headache.
- Bleeding from the ulcers.
What Are The Different Types of Genital Herpes?
There are two strains of herpes simplex virus that are capable of causing genital sores. These differ from one another in certain respects, particularly the mode of transmission and severity of outcomes. Both forms of the virus can be shed through the skin and this is particularly pronounced during the first outbreak.
- HSV-1 is responsible for causing oral sores and can be transmitted via non-sexual contact. Infection with HSV-1 often occurs early in life, usually in childhood. HSV-1 infection can spread to the genitals by means of oral intercourse with a person having oral sores. Genital HSV-1 infection is less likely to pass on to a sexual partner in comparison with HSV-2 infection.
- HSV-2 infection is more often responsible for genital herpes than HSV-1. Sexual contact is the main mode of transmission. This infection is more prevalent among women than men. However, it is more likely to spread from a man to a woman than the other way around. Recurrence of outbreaks is more likely and viral shedding more intense in instances of HSV-2 infection.
Can There Be Any Be Any Complications?
Those with genital herpes face an increased risk of acquiring and transmitting other STDs. This is because the ulceration that occurs as result of the herpes infection makes the genital skin and mucous membranes more vulnerable to sexually transmitted infection. In fact, those with symptomatic genital herpes face as much as a 2 to 4 times higher risk of acquiring and transmitting HIV infection.
Symptoms can be especially severe in individuals with weak immunity as a result of, for instance, an existing HIV infection or immunodeficiency of some kind. Infection affecting the eyes can result in blindness. Encephalitis and meningitis can occur when the virus causes inflammation of the brain or the protective tissues surrounding it.
A pregnant woman with symptomatic genital herpes risks suffering a miscarriage or premature delivery. HSV infection can pass on to the fetus and the child may develop neonatal herpes. The risk of complications is particularly high if a woman acquires the infection during the final trimester of her pregnancy. If she has active genital sores close to the time of labor and delivery, a Caesarean section is usually advised in order to avoid exposing the newborn to the virus.
What Tests Help To Diagnose Genital Herpes?
The signs of genital herpes are absent or only mild in most cases. However, when blisters or sores do appear they can be mistaken for yeast or bacterial infections. It is important to obtain a correct diagnosis in order to gain awareness about protecting one’s current or prospective partners from the infection.
An initial physical examination will usually reveal blisters and ulceration. The patient may complain of pain during urination and there may be fever as well. The combination of such symptoms suggests a diagnosis of genital herpes and confirmation requires blood tests and swabs taken from the affected areas.
Treatment & Prevention
Antiviral therapy is required to treat genital herpes. These medications help in preventing herpes outbreaks and also decrease their intensity and frequency. Daily suppressive therapy can help control the symptoms and also prevent it from spreading from one person to another. The following precautionary methods should be adopted in order to prevent the onset of genital herpes:
- Don’t engage in any form of sexual contact (genital, oral, or anal) with herpes infected person.
- If blisters are not present, one can indulge in sexual contact but with proper protective measures.
- Avoid having multiple sex partners.
- If you have been diagnosed with any one STI, it would be advisable to get tested for other STIs as well.
- Refrain from kissing a partner if he/she has a cold sore near the mouth.
- Ask your partner if he/she has any STI or has a partner who has been diagnosed with an STI.
- Oral herpes ( caused by Herpes Simplex Virus 1) can spread from the oral cavity to the genitals through oral sex. 50% of all genital herpes are caused by oral herpes.
- Genital herpes is quite common in the USA with almost 776,000 cases of herpes infections reported every year.
- Genital herpes caused by Herpes Simplex Virus 2 is more common among women than among men because the virus is more easily transferred from men to women during sexual intercourse.
- Almost 80% of people with genital herpes are unaware of their condition since the symptoms are mostly mild to negligible.
- The Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) belongs to a family of virus knows as the herpesvirus family. Another virus under this category includes EBV (Epstein Barr virus responsible for Mono) and varicella-zoster virus (causing chicken pox and shingles).
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Dos and Don'ts
- Wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothes (made of soft fabric such as cotton).
- Practice safe sex.
- Apply ice cubes to the affected skin to obtain relief from the painful sores.
- Consume a diet rich in amino acids such as beans, lentils soy products, poultry, and eggs.
- Keep the affected area dry and clean.
- Scratch the skin lesions or try to prick it with sharp objects.
- Consume a diet rich in amino acid arginine such as chocolates, refined flour, peanuts etc.
- Indulge in sexual contact during the treatment period and also during the time when the symptoms are experienced.
- Indulge in foods that can trigger symptoms and outbreaks. Caffeine is a common trigger for herpes.
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