Genital Herpes Definition:
It is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) in which Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) is the causative agent. Both Herpes and Herpes Simplex Virus are of two types. HSV 1 and HSV 2 and Oral Herpes and Genital Herpes. HSV-1 is most commonly associated with cold sores, i.e., blisters and ulcers around the mouth. Whereas HSV-2 mostly causes herpes in the genital areas. However, both HSV-1 and HSV-2 can cause any herpes. For example, a cold sore on the mouth when comes in contact with a genital area, it can cause genital herpes.
Genital Herpes Statistics:
The question is that how many people have genital herpes. Based on CDC stats for genital herpes, more than 1 out of 6 individuals, who are aged between 14 – 49 years, suffer from genital herpes in the United States. This ratio makes genital herpes one of the most common sexually transmitted infection. However, unfortunately, 80 percent of these individuals do not know of their diseased condition. So they have it, but they don’t have it.
Each year around 776,000 new cases of herpes are seen in the United States.
World Health Organization states that HSV-1 infects 67 percent of world's population under 50 years of age. It is just that most of them are not aware of the infection.
Herpes Simplex Virus tends to infect women more than it infects men. Spread of HSV-1 or HSV-2 from men to a woman is more likely as compared to the opposite.
So, how common is herpes?
It is very common!
How do you get genital herpes? (Genital Herpes Transmission):
The transmission of genital herpes results from a direct person to person contact with an exception to only one condition where the inanimate object may spread the herpes virus, i.e., wearing the infected clothing of a person who is actively infected with the herpes simplex virus.
Herpes is a sexually transmitted disease. Therefore, oral, anal, or vaginal sex with a person who has genital herpes is most likely to transfer the disease. Moreover, kissing someone with cold sores can spread labial herpes.
The likelihood of a female partner getting genital herpes from her male sex partner is comparatively more than a man getting an infection from his female sex partner.
As herpes doesn’t always show signs and symptoms, the chances of spread of infection are even more.
Herpes simplex virus enters through microscopic breaks in the skin and mucous membrane whenever a person comes in any sexual contact with an infected individual.
It is often a question of concern whether there is a link between labial herpes and genital herpes. Ye; the contact of genitals with a cold sore on lips and the saliva of the infected person are definitely going to cause infection. This is the reason that some cases of genital herpes result due to HSV-1.
Remember, you do not catch herpes from bed sheets, swimming pools, towels, soaps, and other touchable inanimate objects. If you are further concerned about the spread of herpes, it is time to consult your healthcare provider.
Risk factors for genital herpes:
- Kissing someone who is already infected.
- Unprotected sex
- Touching cold sores and ulcers
- Weak immunity
- Medical conditions that result in immunodeficiency
- High level drinking
- Drug abuse
Genital herpes symptoms:
The signs and symptoms of genital herpes in men and women are almost similar. Read on to find out what does genital herpes look like.
- Redness around genitals is observed.
- Itching or tingling sensation around genitals and down the leg prior to the eruption of blisters.
- Cracked areas are present around genitals in which pain, tingling, or an itching is absent. However, itching and tingling is otherwise present around anal region and genitals.
- Small blisters that eventually convert into painful genital sores. These lesions ooze or bleed. It takes 2 – 4 weeks for the blisters to heal.
- Genital sores, also called as cold sores, are present on or around men’s penis and female’s vagina. In rare cases, these genital pimples extend until the inside of urethra which is the tube through which urine passes on its way out of the body.
- Painful sensation as urine passes over genital sores. Women suffer this problem more than their men counterparts.
- Fluid discharge from penis and vagina.
- Back pain.
- Inflammation of the anus and rectum. This is common in individuals who indulge in anal sex.
- Flu-like symptoms along with fever, chills, lymphadenopathy in the groin (swollen lymph nodes), headaches, muscle pain, and fatigue. These symptoms are usually present on the first outbreak of genital herpes.
- Scabs are formed when the ulcers heal and skin crusts over those ulcers.
It is important to know that these symptoms are not only exclusive to genital herpes, but certain other medical conditions may also produce these symptoms. For example, bladder infections, yeast infection in the vagina, and some bacterial infections. The accurate diagnosis for these apparently genital herpes rashes and sores is through testing for Herpes Virus.
It is entirely possible that a male individual is suffering from Genital Herpes, yet there are no blisters or cold sores. Whereas, another man suffering the same condition has genital herpes on the penile head. Why? Because symptoms do not always accompany genital herpes.
Where do Genital Herpes sores develop?
Men and women may develop genital sores on:
Women also develop sores on the cervix, external genitals, and vaginal area. Whereas men specifically have them more prominent in or on the scrotum or penis.
Genital herpes in women causes a greater discomfort because of genital sores on the vulva and the opening of the vagina. These sore develop ulcers and are painful especially during the passage of urine. The infection ultimately spreads to urethra and cervix causing cervicitis. At times, cervicitis is the only sign present in women infected by HSV-2.
Genital Herpes Incubation Period:
The average incubation period of genital herpes is 4 days. However, individuals infected with Herpes virus begin to show symptoms anywhere between two to twelve days of virus exposure. Genital sores appear on the area where infection has entered your body. These sores spread to other areas when you touch the sores and then rub hands elsewhere on the body.
Genital Herpes Outbreaks:
Once a person gets infected with herpes virus, it doesn’t go away. After the initial infection, the person may have recurrence later in life, or the virus may stay dormant in the nerves forever.
After the first infection, your body produces enough protection in the form of antibodies that the recurrent bouts of herpes are less severe, less painful, and short lived. But why does it recur? It is because the virus stays in an inactive form in a nearby nerve tissue and from time to time, it keeps enjoying the visit to the surface of your skin. Recurrence of the infection is quite common. You are lucky if your case is of those few who do not get repeat occurrences of genital herpes.
Symptoms of recurrent herpes outbreaks may even go unnoticed. The good news is that in most cases, over the time, the frequency of infection also reduces. However, the individual cases vary. Some people get numerous episodes of infection each year while others enjoy the privilege of being lucky.
Just like the first time, when people experience a recurrent episode, they feel a burning or a tingling sensation where the virus infected them first. They also experience pain in the buttocks, legs, and back.
The recurrence of genital herpes or cold sores is more likely to occur in the cases of immunodeficiency, i.e., decline in the immune function. Stress, emotional condition of a person, and certain medicines can cause outbreaks from the previously dormant herpes virus.
However, it is important to inform your sexual partner once you have been infected with the herpes virus. Why? Because prevention is better than cure and it would be a sort of cheating on your partner by not telling the truth. Even when you do not have any signs and symptoms, you still hold that responsibility to inform them.
Who treats genital herpes?
Primary health care providers usually treat it. Pediatricians have their role in treating genital herpes in adolescents. Internal medicine and family medicine specialist treat other age groups, whereas women are often treated by their gynecologists. Infection disease specialists and Urologists may be consulted in special circumstances.
Genital Herpes Vaccines:
On this subject, we still lack human trials. While some researchers have been successful in creating vaccines that are even up to 95 percent effective in animal models, these have not yet made it to the human trials, and so we have to wait for another year or two before we have that facility. So, there are no vaccines available for Genital Herpes.
Genital Herpes Diagnosis:
Sexually active individuals are the only group of people who are most concerned about STDs. If that’s the case, here’s some information for your curious mind.
Genital herpes is tested through multiple methods. The easiest one is definitely the use Herpes-2 Home Test Kit for diagnosis. So start with that one.
1. Herpes-2 Home Test Kit:
This test involves using a drop or 2 of your blood and simply following the instructions given on the pack. It gives the results in around 15 minutes and also saves the time. Plus, if you are a shy person or have some psychological barriers regarding STDs, this kit is for you.
2. Direct fluorescent antibody (DFA) test:
This test requires swab from the lesions, ulcers, or the upper respiratory tract. It involves the microscopic examination to reveal the results.
3. Enzyme-linked virus-inducible system (ELVIS):
The benefit of this test is that it can be performed on a variety of specimens such as cerebrospinal fluid, throat swabs, vaginal swabs, eye exudates, urine, and ulcerated lesions. The results, if positive, are then confirmed by immunofluorescent staining.
4. DNA polymerase chain reaction:
This test detects which strain of herpes is present; hsv-1 or hsv-2.
How to get tested for Genital Herpes?
Getting tested is the only way to find out if you have herpes. You can get a test from a local clinic or your hospital. But, in case you are conscious and don’t want to reveal that you are looking to get tested for genital herpes, a Herpes home test kit would come handy. It keeps your privacy and saves time. If that is not the case, by all mean, visit your doctor and get tested.
It might be of concern whether home test kits are the reliable choice or not. Don’t worry, these kits are tested by laboratories worldwide and are highly accurate in giving results.
Is there a cure for Genital Herpes?
The medications available to treat genital herpes are meant to lessen the severity and duration of symptoms. The treatment works best if taken at an early stage of genital herpes. You should get medicines as soon as the tingling sensation appears or within 24 hours of a first herpes outbreak. The antiviral drugs for genital herpes that are commonly use are as follows:
It is only in the cases of severe infection that drugs might be given through intravenous route. Usually, these are taken by mouth. Topical medication to apply directly on genital sores are also available in cream forms.
Individuals who suffer more than 6 outbreaks of herpes in a years’ time are entitled to receive extensive suppressive therapy so as to lessen the frequency of herpes outbreaks.
Home remedies for Genital Herpes:
People with low immunity are more likely to experience recurrent bouts of herpes. It is important to eat food that improves immunity to avoid recurrent infection. You should add the following foods to your diet so that herpes virus can be kept dormant for the maximum time possible:
- Red vegetables
- Pasture-raised poultry
- Pumpkin seeds
- Grass fed beef
Foods that worsen herpes:
- Processed food
Other natural remedies:
- Apply lemon balm extract as a cream on the genital sores.
- Use zinc supplements
- Use vitamin C and B complex supplements to boost immunity.
- Apply tea tree oil on the affected area (Don’t forget to wash your hands with soap afterward).
- Clove oil
- Myrrh oil
- Use the warm towel on areas that hurt or take a warm shower.
Genital herpes and pregnancy:
One major concern for pregnant females with an outbreak of genital herpes is the transfer of disease to the baby during the process of delivery. It is recommended by The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists that all pregnant women with recurrent genital herpes should be offered antiviral therapy at 36 months. The therapy should continue until delivery to ensure vaginal delivery. Otherwise, during an active genital herpes state, cesarean delivery (C-section) is performed to minimize the chances of spread of infection to the new born.
If infants catch the infection, the virus spreads through their bloodstream and can have adverse consequences.
Prognosis of individuals with genital herpes:
There is no cure for this disease. Antiviral therapy is taken as a palliative treatment and to decrease the recurrence frequency. The number of outbreaks and severity of the disease varies from person to person.
Genital herpes and HIV:
It is not the herpes virus that is responsible for AIDs. However, as a result of genital herpes, the ulcers that form make one’s skin more prone to catch the HIV if an exposure occurs. That is why the person who has genital herpes and exposed to HIV is more likely to catch the HIV infection.
How do I prevent the spread of herpes virus?
- It is difficult to prevent the infection because it can spread even in the absence of an active outbreak. However, it is best to avoid sexual contact during an active infection. At best, if you can’t avoid it, do make sure that you put on condoms and have minimalistic contact to the area of lesions and ulcers.
- Thoroughly wash your hands with soap.
- Inform your partner about the condition.
- Do not share your clothes that have possibly touched the genitals.
Complications related to genital herpes:
Following five complications are likely to result from herpes:
- Risk of catching other sexually transmitted infections: Every time there is breach in the skin or mucous membrane, we get more prone to infections that my not affect us otherwise. Genital sores increase the chances of catching other viruses that are responsible for STDs.
- Transfer of infection to the new born: Newborns are prone to catch the infection during delivery. If that happens, results can be blindness, brain damage, or even the death of the new born.
- Bladder issues: Genital herpes can spread to the urethra and cause swelling which may remain there for several days. This requires a catheter to drain the urine for as long as urethra is swollen.
- Meningitis: It is the inflammation of membranes around the brain and spinal cord. This is a rare complication.
- Proctitis (Rectal inflammation): Genital herpes can cause inflammation of the rectal lining. This is especially true in the case of anal sex and gay men.
Genital Herpes vs. Genital Warts:
Genital warts are different from genital herpes. Genital warts are basically growths on the sexually exposed skin as result of certain human papilloma virus infection. These growths are flesh-colored.
Stereotypes associated with genital herpes:
1. It is uncommon:
Do NOT believe this. It is pretty common. In fact, 1 in every 6 American is exposed to the virus.
2. If I had it, I would have known it:
Genital herpes does not always show the symptoms. If you do not have the symptoms, you are still likely to have it.
3. Oral Herpes is better than Genital Herpes:
When it comes to viruses, nothing is good. Assuming that oral herpes is less harmful is not quite right. It is definitely possible to transfer the herpes virus from a cold sore on lip to the genital parts and hence an outbreak of genital herpes.
4. Multiple partners:
It is believed that people who suffer from genital herpes must have a lot of sex partners. This is not true. Having a sexual contact with just one person can easily transfer the virus if the person is infected.
5. People with genital herpes are doomed:
It is not that once diagnosed with herpes no one would want to be in an intimate relationship with you. While some may refuse to do so, others will have no issues. But this stigma should not prevent you from disclosing your HSV positive status to your sex partner.
6. Herpes causes infertility:
NO, it does not. It is scary that the infection might spread to your newborn or that you would face recurrent bouts of herpes during pregnancy, but being infertile because of herpes has no scientific grounds.
7. It’s a shame to have herpes:
Why should one feel ashamed for a disease which is likely to infect anyone? If someone with diabetes or hypertension is not ashamed of their disease, you must also NOT feel that way.
If you were to have an intimate relationship with anyone, you would want for yourself to be informed of any transmittable infections your sex partner might have had in the past. Similarly are the expectations of your partner. If you have encountered herpes in the past, or have had the habit of having unprotected sex, it is only wise to let the other person know of your HSV positive status.
It is quite possible that you or your partner might have genital herpes but with no symptoms. In this case, it is even more important for both of you to get tested.
Genital herpes is not only painful but also poses embarrassing moments for the affected individuals. It is known only too well that amongst the hustle of everyday routine, it’s a headache to get tested or even talk about the infections of past, that too just before you were about to spend some good time after that hectic day.
Is it that difficult to conduct a test that would take some 15 minutes but would save you from ignoring precautions? Of course NOT.
If you have been suffering from recurrent herpes infection, talk to your physician about safe sex and how to reduce these recurrent outbreaks. Mostly, the outbreaks lessen with time. Also, antiviral drugs help in reducing these outbreaks.
Herpes once acquired, will always be there to come back to life. It is your personal effort and a matter of time to make sure that this happens very rarely.
Improve your immunity, eat healthy food, get tested for genital herpes, talk to your health care provider about antiviral therapy, be confident, and enjoy life.