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Understanding Genital Herpes: causes, symptoms and treatments

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Anatomist | Health writer | Researcher
GENITAL HERPES

Can I die from a Genital herpes infection?

People who are diagnosed with Genital herpes often ask the above question and others like these: How was I infected? How do I know that I have Genital herpes? Should I inform my partner? What is the cure for it? How do I live with it? These and many will be answered in this article, ensure you read to the end.

Tiny sores, blisters and painful itches around the genitals can be very discomforting. But beyond the discomfort is the fact that these are almost always telltale signs you may have genital herpes.

KEY POINTS

  • Genital herpes is a self-diagnosable and contagious sexually transmitted infection characterized by sores, blisters, and itching around the genitals.
  • It is primarily caused by the Type 2 herpes simplex virus (HSV-2) and is transmitted through sexual activities such as intercourse, oral or anal sex, and kissing.
  • Symptoms include inflammation, itchiness, sores, shooting pains, fever, headaches, burning sensation during urination, change in vaginal discharge, and abdominal pain.
  • While there is no cure or vaccine for genital herpes, symptoms can be managed with antiviral medications, pain relievers, and proper hygiene.
  • Talk to an Expert Doctor for better and more personalized treatment options
  • Preventive measures include abstinence, condom use, and limiting sexual partners to reduce the risk of transmission.

WHAT IS GENITAL HERPES?

Genital herpes is often a self-diagnosable sexually transmitted infection (STI) that is contagious. Persons with genital herpes usually have one or more painful blisters/sores around their rectum, mouth or private parts (penis or vagina).

Because Genital herpes is contagious, it can be transferred from one person to the other through sexual activities like kissing, intercourse, anal or oral sex.

It becomes worse if the infected person has a weaker immune system and can even spread to other parts of the body like the thighs, eyes, chest, etc. when the fluid from the sores touches these other body parts.

What Causes Genital Herpes?

Being a common sexually transmitted infection, genital herpes is primarily caused by Type 2 herpes simplex virus (HSV-2).

Another type of herpes simplex virus called Type 1 herpes simplex virus HSV-1 causes oral sores and can cause genital herpes too through oral sex. In all, there are two types of herpes simplex virus (HSV) that can cause genital herpes.

Transmission of this virus is usually sexual as herpes is contracted through the exchange of fluids during sexual relation with an infected person via sexual intercourse (penetrative, oral and anal). It can also be transmitted through the exchange of saliva while kissing or other close body contact. Hence you can find HSV-1 or HSV-2 in saliva, semen and vaginal secretions.

Genital herpes is very common and there are over 1.5 million cases reported in Nigeria every year. According to a study carried out by College of Medicine, University of Ibadan.  

Symptoms of Genital Herpes

GENITAL HERPES
Understanding Genital Herpes: causes, symptoms and treatments 3

Signs of genital herpes can begin to show up from two to twenty days (2 – 20 days) after infection and can last for many weeks before it fades, and then resurfaces from time to time. After infection, the virus moves from skin cells to nerve cells. As earlier noted, among the most visible symptoms of genital herpes are;

In Men:

1) inflammation in the penis or penile area.

2) painful itchiness at the scrotum, penis, and anus

3) sores/blisters on or around the groin.

4) shooting pains in the legs, hips or buttocks.

5) fever and headaches.

In Women:

1) Burning sensation when passing out urine.

2) itchy sores and painful blisters on or around the vagina, cervix or vulva.

3) A change in vaginal discharge.

4) Flu and headaches.

5) Abdominal pain as a result of swollen glands in the pelvic area.

6) Uneven bumps around the vaginal or anal area.

In Babies

If a pregnant mother is infected with genital herpes, she can pass it to the baby during vaginal birth.

  • Ulcers on the face, body and genitals are common symptoms of genital herpes in babies.

It is important that mothers inform doctors of their STI’s history and undergo tests for genital herpes when pregnant to help doctors know the best treatment and options for birth, genital herpes in new born can lead to severe complications in later life if left untreated. Some of the complications include:

  • Death
  • Blindness
  • Brain damage

Most of these symptoms described above are referred to as “outbreaks.” They are usually very pronounced the first time a person gets infected and may then become mild in subsequent times. Also note that some individuals infected with genital herpes are asymptomatic or have very mild symptoms that go unnoticed or are mistaken for another skin condition. When herpes does not show noticeable signs, it could be that the virus is still in its latent phase

For persons with visible symptoms, it is important to know that these symptoms can also come and go, but that doesn’t mean the infection goes away or that it can’t be spread to other people.

The fact remains that genital herpes are incurable which means that once a person contracts herpes, it stays in their body for life. But this is not the end of the world because thanks to advancements in medical science, genital herpes can be properly managed. Read further to learn ample ways to treat and manage it.

How to Diagnose Genital Herpes

Doctors can diagnose genital herpes by physical examination of the sores or blisters. Then confirm it using laboratory tests. If you feel you have exposed yourself to contracting genital herpes, you can go to the hospital and have them run some blood tests to confirm if you have it.

In developed countries, there are option of home test kits for herpes diagnosis. You can order them online. It is always better to have a doctor look at you to avoid wrong diagnosis or self medication.  

How can Genital Herpes be Treated?

There is currently no known cure for genital herpes nor is there a clinically approved vaccine for it. However, that’s not the end of the world as there are millions of people living with herpes today who go about their daily activities with little or no qualms.

What matters is the effective management of symptoms to avoid discomfort and suppress further spread.

Depending on how mild or severe one’s symptoms are, genital herpes can be managed or treated in the following ways:

What are the risk factors for contracting genital herpes?

Genital herpes is transmitted through skin to skin contact and you are at risk if you:

  • Involve in any form of vaginal, oral and anal sexual activities with someone who has genital herpes.
  • Have unprotected sex or sex without condoms or other protective methods with an infected partner.
  • Have multiple sexual partners.
  • Have weak immunity.

Can Genital Herpes Be Prevented?

The surest way to avoid genital herpes is to practice abstinence from sexual intercourse. But if you are sexually active, you can reduce your risk of contracting Herpes (HSV) by:

  • Practicing safe sex by using barrier methods like condoms during sex
  • Having only one sexual partner.
  • Discussing your sexual history with your partner before getting intimate with them.
  • Going for tests and screening from time to time.
  • Abstaining from all forms of oral sex especially if you are not sure of the persons sexual history.
  • Avoid kissing a person who has sores or blisters on their lips or tongue.

READ MORE:

Other ways include;

  • Appropriate use of condoms during penetrative sex and dental dams during oral sex.
  • Making sure to stick to one uninfected sexual partner to reduce the risk of herpes virus shedding in areas that are not covered by condoms.

Conclusion

Genital herpes is a common sexually transmitted infection. It causes sores or painful blisters to appear on the genitals or lips of infected persons. Genital herpes affects millions of people yearly.  

It is caused by two viruses. The herpes simplex type 1 (HSV-1) which is responsible for oral herpes and the herpes simplex type 2 (HSV-2) which cause genital herpes.

Genital herpes is spread through bodily contact like sexual intercourse involving vaginal, oral or anal sex. Exchange of saliva through kissing of persons with oral herpes. You can get genital herpes from your infected partner even when they show no symptoms.

This means that most people are living with genital herpes unknowingly. Always use a condom to stay safe especially if you don’t know your partner’s sexual history.

Genital herpes can reoccur after treatment. Remember it does not have a cure yet. If you stop taking your medications or involve in unprotected sex with other infected partners, the symptoms may come back more severe.

It is important that you pay attention and take your medications seriously while practicing safe sex to avoid spreading it.

SOME FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT GENITAL HERPES.

Can I get genital herpes and not know?

Yes you can, some persons are asymptomatic or silent carriers.

How do I check if I have genital herpes?

If you have sores or blisters on your genital area, it is best to visit the hospital for a physical examination by a doctor. You can also run some swab test, PCR test etc. to confirm if you have genital herpes.

How can I prevent getting genital herpes?

You can prevent spread of genital herpes through abstinence, use of condoms and partner communication.

Can genital herpes be cured with herbal remedies?

No, herbal medicines cannot cure genital herpes. At the moment there is no cure for it. However the use of antiretroviral (ARV)drugs as a treatment option have helped to shorten the duration and severity of outbreaks , reduce viral loads and help prevent transmission to partners.

What I do if I think I have genital herpes?

Seek medical attention immediately

Can I die if I have genital herpes

The Herpes simplex virus is rarely life threatening to adults but very dangerous for infants. Most adults live with it all their live without knowing.

REFERNCES

Komplete care blog (2023). Sexually Transmitted Infection Symptoms
in Men

Komplete care blog (2023). 5 Safe Sex Practices for Sexual Responsibility.
Centre for disease control ( 2021). Is there a cure or treatment for
genital herpes?

Komplete care blog (2023). Understanding Genital Herpes: causes,
symptoms and treatments

NHS informs (2023). Swollen glands

Yale Medicine (2021) Herpes

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Chioma Okwara

Chioma Okwara is an Anatomist and a health content writer. She specializes in topics related to public health, mental health and infertility. Chioma is a Volunteer for Whispering Hope Africa Initiative ( WHAiafrica) where she offers her services to helping the poor in the rural areas of the Nigeria.

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