genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Herpes simplex virus is a common sexually transmitted infection that affects more than 400 million people worldwide.
It has two variants: HSV-1 and HSV-2. HSV-1 is usually spread by mouth through sores or saliva. Some common examples include sharing drinking glasses or kissing. HSV-1 most commonly causes oral cold sores. HSV-2 is sexually transmitted and causes genital herpes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 12 percent of people aged 14-49 are infected with HSV-2.
But an increasing number of genital herpes infections are caused by HSV-1.This means oral, anal or vaginal contact with HSV-1 can also cause genital herpes
This article will explain how to diagnose, treat, and prevent genital herpes. It will also explain how to move forward safely and confidently if you test positive.
symptoms of herpes
Many people don’t realize they have genital herpes because the symptoms are mild. Others have noticeable and painful symptoms.
The most obvious symptom of genital herpes is a change in the skin of the genitals or rectum, also known as an outbreak. Outbreaks can occur in:
- small red blisters
- white pimple
Markers can appear individually or in clusters.
Outbreaks vary in severity, with the first being painful and lasting up to four weeks. Repeated bursts are usually shorter and less painful. During an outbreak, you may also notice flu-like symptoms such as fever, body aches, or swollen glands.
Transmission usually occurs with contact with an infected sexual partner who has no visible lesions and may not know they are infected. The herpes virus can be transmitted to sexual partners with or without symptoms.
It is important to consult your healthcare provider about suspicious markings in the genital area.
potential side effects
Herpes outbreaks can also have other side effects, including additional sexually transmitted infections, bladder problems, meningitisand more.
other sexually transmitted infections
Patients with HSV-2 are at higher risk of infection human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection.
Skin affected by a genital herpes outbreak (even after it has healed) has more immune cells. HIV targets immune cells to enter the body, creating an ideal environment for HIV to enter and spread.
In addition, active blisters provide a convenient entry point for other sexually transmitted infections.
Painful urination is not uncommon during a genital herpes outbreak. Blisters or open sores may appear in the urethra (the bladder tube), and when they come in contact with urine, they usually cause a tingling sensation.
Urinary retention (when you can’t empty your bladder) can also occur due to decreased bladder sensation and inflammation. In this extreme case, a catheter is used to help release urine.
Pregnant women with genital herpes need to consider safe delivery plans, as herpes infection can lead to neonatal herpes, which can be life-threatening for the newborn. You are more likely to pass the infection on to your unborn child during labor than during pregnancy.
Those infected before or during the first trimester (trimester) of pregnancy have a 1% chance of passing the virus to the newborn. This is because the mother’s immune system produces antibodies to the virus, which are then passed on to the unborn child through the placenta, giving the baby some protection.
In the case of primary/first infection, infection within the past three months increases the chance of HSV transmission to 40%. For recurrent HSV infection, it can be as low as 3%. In this case, a caesarean section is strongly recommended.
Regardless of the date of infection, babies are more likely to be infected if the mother has a current outbreak because they may be exposed to the virus as they pass through the cervix and vagina. During an outbreak, a cesarean section is usually recommended. If you want to plan a natural labor, you can talk with your healthcare provider about taking medication to reduce the risk of an outbreak before your due date.
As uncomfortable as you may feel, it’s in your baby’s best interest to disclose any STIs to a medical professional so you can plan a safe pregnancy.
herpes simplex encephalitisalso known as herpes meningoencephalitisis a rare neurological disorder in which brain tissue and surrounding tissues are infected and inflamed by the HSV virus. Both chains can cause neurological infections and be fatal.
If diagnosed with HSV-2, be sure to keep an eye out for any fever, personality changes, sensitivity to light, or hallucinations. If you notice anything unusual, contact your healthcare provider right away.
Treatment of herpes simplex encephalitis includes antiviral drugs. Depending on the severity of the infection, you may need to be treated in the hospital.
Herpes infections can also lead to proctitis, an inflammation of the rectum.
Symptoms of HSV proctitis include:
- pain around the anus
- tenesmus (you need to go feel)
- rectal bleeding
Proctitis is thought to develop from the initial genital herpes outbreak through the perianal skin into the anal canal and then into the rectum. It can also be spread through anal sex with an infected partner.
Who is at risk?
Everyone who is sexually active is at risk of contracting genital herpes. But women contracted at a higher rate than men. About 8% of men were infected with HSV-2, while about 16% of women tested positive.
HSV-2 is more common in women than men for several reasons. Men with HSV-2 often have no symptoms, which means they may not know they have the virus. The result is a higher rate of transmission from males to females.
It also occurs more frequently in women because it is more likely to be transmitted from male to female than from female to male during penile-vaginal intercourse.
If you have symptoms of genital herpes, make an appointment with your healthcare provider, who can diagnose a herpes infection by looking at your skin and/or swabbing the sore to test for the herpes virus. If you don’t have obvious symptoms but want to get tested before you start a relationship with a new sexual partner, a blood test can help determine if you have the infection.
There is no cure for genital herpes. The virus will live in your body forever, but you can manage your symptoms, prevent further spread, and have a fulfilling love life.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved daily antiviral medications, also known as suppressive therapy, can help prevent re-epidemic outbreaks and improve quality of life by suppressing the virus. They can also shorten the duration of outbreaks and help prevent transmission to sexual partners.
Your comfort and safety should come first when treating genital herpes. Here are some home remedies that may help during an outbreak:
- Soak the affected area in a sitz bath (warm, soothing bath)
- Take L-lysine, an amino acid found to shorten the time to disease outbreaks
- Gently wash the sore with unscented soap and water
- take acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or aspirin for pain relief
- Apply a cold compress to the sore several times a day
- Women with painful ulcers on the vaginal lip (labia) can urinate in a bucket of water or a low water bath to avoid pain
Being in a long-term monogamous relationship can reduce the risk of contracting genital herpes (or any sexually transmitted infection) after both partners have been tested.
Your risk of contracting genital herpes increases with the number of sexual partners you have. Defend yourself if you choose to interact with multiple partners. Ask when they were last tested and/or tested together.
While condom use has been shown to reduce the risk of transmission of HSV-2 from men to women, it does not eliminate it. Getting tested regularly, monitoring your body, and being honest with your sexual partners are the keys to preventing genital herpes.
Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted virus that can cause painful outbreaks. It is more common in women than men and can lead to complications in childbirth. Herpes is always present in the body. There is no cure, but there are management tools to manage outbreaks and improve your quality of life.
Genital herpes is an unfair stigma given how ubiquitous the virus is. Most people with herpes do not know they are infected. There are dating apps, groups, and influencers today that normalize HSV positivity. If diagnosed, you can still live a happy, fulfilling life full of sex, love, and health. It doesn’t need to be the end of your sex life. No matter what, do your best to be kind to yourself.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can genital herpes be cured?
Will not. Once diagnosed, HSV infection stays in your body for life, no matter how many outbreaks or symptoms you experience.
How long will genital herpes last?
During the initial outbreak, genital herpes may persist for 2-4 weeks. Subsequent outbreaks will decrease in severity and timing.
How can you avoid spreading herpes to your partner?
There are several ways to avoid spreading herpes to your partner. Daily use of antiviral drugs and suppressive therapy can significantly reduce the risk of transmission. Also practice safe oral and penetration sex, using dental dams and condoms.