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Genital Herpes – All you wanted to know

Genital Herpes is a sexually transmitted disease (STD). This sexually transmitted infection causes herpetic sores, which are painful blisters (fluid-filled bumps) that can break open and ooze fluid. The infection that is more common in women, than in men. Once contracted, this infection cannot be completely cured, and hence special care must be taken not to further spread it.

What is Genital Herpes?

Herpes is the name given to a group of sexually transmitted viruses known to affect humans. There are two common types known as Herpes simplex 1 (HSV-1) and Herpes simplex 2 (HSV-2) that affect both men and women either in the oral area or in the genital area, respectively.

Genital infections caused by herpes simplex viruses (HSV), are the most frequently seen sexually transmitted infections, in both developed and developing countries, such as India. In a 2006 study done in a Delhi STI clinic, as many as 85% of attendees had HSV-2 infection.

Symptoms of Genital Herpes

Clear to white pearly blisters are the hallmark of Herpes infection. They may be present anywhere in the genital area of both men and women. The buttocks, anus, penis, scrotum, vagina, vulva and the labia are common areas for these eruptions for both men and women. For instance, common symptoms for males include blisters on the buttocks (near or around anus), penis, or scrotum, while common symptoms in females include blisters near or around the vagina, anus and buttocks.

Some of the common symptoms of Herpes for both men and women include:

· The blisters may turn ulcerated (open sores) and ooze fluid

· Blisters may appear on the lips, face and in the mouth, or anywhere else that came into contact with the infected areas

· The infected area is often painful, and can also cause itching and burning sensation

· Fever and swollen lymph glands can also be present in the acute stages of the infection.

· Once the current episode subsides in 2 to 4 weeks, the herpes virus lies dormant in the nerve cells and when the opportune time presents, such as during menstrual periods, or any other reason for reduced immunity, a relapse can occur.

This can be particularly irksome for couples that engage in regular sex.

Causes of Genital Herpes

Herpes infection is highly contagious and painful and spreads through sexual contact:

· HSV 2, the virus that causes most cases of genital Herpes, can spread through secretions from the mouth or genitals.

· Herpes spreads through all kinds of sexual contact. A person can contract the virus if their skin, vagina, penis or mouth come into contact with an infected person.

· One of the most common ways Herpes spreads is through contact with the skin of an infected person with visible sores or blisters. However, it is important to understand that even if there are no visible sores present, the virus can spread through saliva or vaginal fluids.

What makes Herpes a serious and chronic problem is the fact that once acquired, the virus cannot be eliminated from the body, thus resulting in frequent and annoying relapses. It’s more common in women as warm, moist conditions in the genital region encourage relapses.

Diagnosis of Genital Herpes

Often, an experienced clinician can look at the rash and diagnose genital Herpes. Another method of diagnosing is by taking a sample of the fluid present in the blisters and sending it to the laboratory for investigation, although this ‘herpes culture’ may not always pick up and identify the virus.

Alternatively, checking for antibodies in the blood to the herpes simplex 2 virus can also be done but this can also give false-negative results. A complete clinical picture plus investigations serves to diagnose any condition more accurately.

Treatment and prevention of Genital Herpes

Genital herpes does not have a permanent cure. However, the condition can be managed with medication. Treatment usually involves anti-viral medications. However, these medicines do not kill the virus permanently. The disease stays dormant within the body until something triggers the infection to relapse. What they do is to make each relapse more tolerable and cause the duration of the infection to be reduced.

Prevention of Genital Herpes can be through

· Abstinence from sex

· Use of latex condoms during all sexual acts

· Monogamy

· Informing your partner if you already have genital Herpes

A pregnant mother should be very careful during pregnancy as the transmission of the virus to the unborn child needs to be averted. Genital herpes can also lead to pregnancy complications such as miscarriage or premature birth. As such, close supervision of the entire pregnancy, including delivery and neonatal care of the newborn, must be followed.

Preventing Genital Herpes

To help prevent genital herpes and other STDs from spreading, practice safe sex. Be monogamous and use polyurethane or latex condoms every time you have sex.

Preventing the spead of Genital Herpes

· Talk to your doctor about taking herpes medicines every day, which can reduce your chances of spreading herpes.

· Always use condoms during sex (oral, anal and vaginal)

· Avoid sex during symptomatic outbreaks (even with a condom) as there may be sores on places the condom does not cover.

· Do not touch your herpes sores, as you may spread the infection to other people or even other parts of your body. If you touch a sore, make sure you wash hands with soap and water immediately

· Always tell your sexual partner that you have herpes before having sex, so you can work together to prevent the infection from spreading.

Remember, people with herpes are twice as likely to get infected to HIV compared to people who don’t. And, people with herpes and HIV have greater chances of spreading HIV to their partners. Therefore, it is really important to use condoms to help protect yourself and your partner.

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