Genital Herpes 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. HSV1 is most commonly associated with cold sores, i.e., blisters and ulcers around the mouth, whereas HSV2 mostly causes herpes in the genital areas. However, both HSV1 and HSV2 can cause any herpes. For example, a cold sore on the mouth when comes in contact with a genital area can cause genital herpes.
Genital Herpes Statistics:
The question is 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 the 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. The spread of HSV1 or HSV2 from a man 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?
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 is 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 itching is absent. However, itching and tingling are 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 the 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 HSV2.
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 the 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 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 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. Therefore, we have to wait until we have that facility.
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 in handy. It keeps your privacy and saves time. If that is not the case, by all mean, visit your doctor and get tested.