Genital herpes is a common infection caused by a virus. Most people who are infected with the virus do not have any symptoms. If you do get symptoms, they are like having cold sores (blisters, sores, redness, pain, itching) on your genitals. After the first outbreak, you may have outbreaks again, this is known as recurrences. Although there is no cure once a person is infected with the genital herpes virus, the symptoms can be controlled with medication. The symptoms of genital herpes vary widely.
Everyone will have a different experience. Some of the most common symptoms are:
Itching or pain in the genital area (and possibly also on the buttocks, lower back and thighs)
Blisters in the genital area that burst, become raw and then crust over
Blisters and sores on the buttocks, thighs and groin
Possibly headache, fatigue and muscle pains
Less commonly, infection with the genital herpes virus may result in fever
The most obvious signs of genital herpes are blister-like sores–much like the classic “cold sores”–that eventually crust over in a scab before healing. Herpes can also cause a variety of ulcers, sores or crusted lesions. These can appear in various locations: the penis, scrotum, labia, vagina, upper thigh, buttocks, or around the anus. Occasionally, herpes may infect the urethra and cause urethral burning.
The physical signs of herpes infection are often very different from the classic blisters and sores described above. They might include, for example: a red patch of skin, a tiny sore easily confused with a pimple or ingrown hair, or an irritation around the anus that might be confused with hemorrhoids. Herpes is not usually associated with vaginal discharge, but it sometimes resembles yeast infections in women. It can also create small sores in the urethra that bring pain during urination. Many times, people who say they’ve never had herpes come into a clinic with a genital complaint that turns out to be it.
Researchers have found that people who complain about the following usually have Herpes:
irritation from sex
aching/itching with period
allergic to condoms
allergic to spermicide
allergic to elastic/pantyhose
irritation from tight jeans
irritation from sex
The first outbreak of genital herpes can last anything from one to four weeks if left untreated. Once you have the herpes virus, it remains in your body even if you take antiviral medication. Unfortunately, most people who suffer from one outbreak will have more outbreaks in the future.
Some people only suffer mild symptoms when they have outbreaks of genital herpes. This can make it hard for doctors to recognize that the symptoms are caused by the genital herpes virus. Sometimes, people may mistake these mild symptoms for another condition (such as a yeast infection in women).
Other people may have no symptoms at all, but may still be infected. In these so-called “atypical” outbreaks, the sores may look different from the blisters that are often associated with genital herpes. In such cases, a swab of the genital area or a sample of your blood may be useful in determining whether the herpes virus is present.
The virus can still be transmitted to a sexual partner even if symptoms are mild – or if there are no symptoms at all. Only your doctor can tell for certain whether you have genital herpes. The doctor will diagnose you based on
Your medical history
A physical examination, especially if sores or other symptoms are present
If you think you have genital herpes, it is important to see your doctor right away to confirm what is causing your symptoms and discuss treatment options. Treatment prescribed by your doctor can ease the symptoms of genital herpes – or if you take ’suppressive’ treatment every day, it can even help reduce the number of outbreaks you have by 80-90 per cent.
Herpes Simplex Type 1 (HSV-1)
HSV is an acronym for the Herpes Simplex Virus. HSV-1 is the virus responsible for cold sores and fever blisters. A large number of people, even those who have been infected for years, are unaware that these oral/facial outbreaks are a form of Herpes, and are highly contagious. There is very little public awareness, education, or discussion of herpes. HSV-1 can also infect the genital area, many times passed through oral sex with someone who has a cold sore. It’s estimated that about 30% of all new cases of genital herpes result from HSV-1.
Herpes Simplex Type 2 (HSV-2)
HSV-2 is generally thought of as “genital herpes,” although HSV-2 can also infect other areas of the body. While these viruses are very similar to each other, HSV-2 tends to be the genital area, and tends to recur more often than HSV-1. A genital infection with type 1 HSV has an average recurrence rate of about once per year, while a
genital HSV-2 infection has an average recurrence rate of about 5 times per year. An oral infection with type 2 HSV will rarely, if ever, recur.
The difference between “genital” Herpes and “oral” Herpes is in location only, not viral type. Many people mistakenly refer to type 2 as “genital herpes,” and type 1 as “oral herpes,” when in fact, Herpes types 1 and 2 can
and do infect either area. While many people have type 1 oral infections and type 1 or 2 genital infections as well, it is rare for a person to have infections with type 1 and type 2 together in the same location.
Herpes Simplex infection is statistically the number one STD (sexually transmitted disease) in the U.S. and the World. Genital Herpes is epidemic and spreading at an estimated rate of a half million people per year. Some statistics indicate that as many as 1 in 6 American adults have genital Herpes. This is over 40 million, and it does not include the millions more who carry HSV-1 that could eventually cause genital Herpes through oral- sex.
Many researchers believe these are even less than the reality. They say that the genital herpes infection can be up to 1 in 4 adults. The fact that HSV can be hard to detect in some cases, as well as the shame and social stigma of Herpes, all are part of the reason that these statistics might not be accurate. Studies have shown that up to 60% of people infected with Genital Herpes do not know or cannot admit that they have the disease.
Even many medical professionals in the U.S. are not up to date with the latest developments in Herpes research, diagnosis, tests, and treatment. A lot of patients agree that their medical practitioners are not sympathetic to the challenges that come with HSV. HSV counseling is an area where a lot of MD s are not comfortable, or they just don t have the time and patience to spend time on.
Herpes is spread through direct contact. So, a genital herpes infection will stay “below the belt” unless transferred elsewhere via direct contact or skin-to-skin transference – it won’t just show up on its own somewhere else on the body. However, it may appear in any area in the genital region because of all of the connected nerves. A recurrence of genital herpes can show up anywhere that can be covered by a pair of shorts.
Transmission of HSV during childbirth can result in infant mortality or abnormalities. That is why if a mother has genital herpes the baby is in most cases delivered through Cesarean section. Herpes can be a serious health issue for certain people. However, most find Herpes to be mainly inconvenient, annoying, and aggravating. Taking care of Herpes allows people and couples who have gotten this infection to have full and normal lives.
In a healthy individual, the immune system attacks herpes and resolves symptoms, but it can’t completely rid the body of herpes. So a small part of the virus remains alive. Herpes stays in the immune system by traveling through nerve pathways and hiding in nerve roots. When it does this it just remains in the body and appears to cause no symptoms and no harm. The virus can stay this way for weeks, months — possibly years — but it’s always able to start to show again.
Some triggers of reoccurrence have been identified. In the case of oral herpes, research has shown that prolonged exposure to ultraviolet light (i.e., sunburn) frequently activates herpes in the face. With genital herpes, some experiments suggest that excessive friction or injury to the genital area can cause herpes to come out of hiding. Other triggers include high stress, fatigue, and menstruation, but the subject requires much more study.
Unfortunately, there is no absolute cure for herpes. Once you have the virus, it stays in your body for life, and you may have further outbreaks. During a repeat outbreak, or ‘recurrence’ of genital herpes, the virus leaves its resting place in nerves at the base of the spine (ganglia) and travels along the nerve. It usually travels back to the spot where it entered the body, but sometimes causes new blisters to pop up. The good news is that your doctor can prescribe effective treatment which can shorten the time that outbreaks last, and help stop the pain. Medication can also be taken continuously to prevent or reduce the number of outbreaks you suffer. The best thing to do to protect yourself and others is to always have protective sex, and to know who you are sleeping with to ensure you don t get the virus.