What is Genital Herpes?

Genital herpes

Genital herpes is a viral condition that causes blisters on the genitals. It is a common condition that can affect both men and women, usually caused by herpes simplex virus 2 and sometimes by the herpes simplex virus 1. This condition is contagious and is transmitted through direct physical contact, usually sexual contact.

The blisters associated with genital herpes are often stinging or painful, and people with this condition may also have a fever or swelling of the lymph nodes in the groin. Treatment involves antivirals, such as aciclovir, in cream or tablet form. The symptoms of this condition tend to be recurring, especially when a person feels stressed or unwell.

Causes and risk factors of genital herpes

Genital herpes is caused by the human herpes simplex virus (HSV), specifically HSV-2 and HSV-1. This virus is spread through skin contact, genital contact, or oral contact with people who have the virus.[1]

Good to know: HSV-1 and HSV-2 infect the cells of the top layer of the skin, the epithelium, and the mucus membranes. After an episode of symptoms, the virus lies dormant in the nerve cells; when reactivated by factors such as stress or illness, it travels along the nerves to the skin or mucous membranes.[1]

Genital herpes is mostly transmitted during sexual contact. People are usually infected during adolescence or in young adulthood, though infection at any age is possible. People who have other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are more likely to have genital herpes. It is estimated that one in five women and one in nine men between the ages of 14 and 49 have a genital HSV-2 infection.[2] More women than men have genital herpes as it is easier for men to transmit HSV-2 to women than it is for women to transmit the virus to men.[3]

Good to know: While most cases of HSV-1 and HSV-2 infection cause either oral or genital ulcers, it is also possible to develop herpetic ulcers on the fingers and thumb. This is known as a herpetic whitlow and is often found among healthcare workers. Herpetic whitlow is more often caused by HSV-1 than HSV-2.[4]

Read more about Human Herpesvirus (HHV) »

Factors that make passing on the virus more likely include:[2][5]

  • Multiple sex partners, both current and across the lifetime
  • Unprotected vaginal or oral sex
  • Sharing sex toys without using a new condom for each partner or proper cleaning between uses
  • Skin-to-skin contact with ulcers during sex or other intimate contact
  • Receiving oral sex from a partner with an active cold sore
  • Not recognizing the presence of ulcers
  • Sex with a partner with an uncircumcised penis
  • Touching the genital or anal area with a herpetic whitlow on the hand.

Like all herpes viruses, HSV-1 and HSV-2 can lie dormant in the body between active episodes. Certain factors can cause the virus to reactivate, including:[6]

  • Stress
  • Illness, which can weaken the immune system
  • Surgery or injury
  • Extreme heat or cold weather
  • Menstruation
  • Fever

If you are experiencing these or other symptoms about which you are concerned, You can search for the nearest doctor Find my doctor.

Symptoms of genital herpes

The typical symptoms of genital herpes are: [2][3][4][5]

  1. Itching or pain in or on the genital areas
  2. Followed by small, fluid-filled blisters.
  3. These blisters developing into crusted sores.

The symptoms may last for up to two weeks. The first time a person has an outbreak of genital herpes, the blisters may be very painful. Other symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Feeling unwell
  • Pain when passing urine
  • Muscle aches
  • Swelling of the lymph nodes in the groin.

These symptoms may occur from time to time, especially when unwell or at times of stress.

Symptoms in men and women

Men and women experience the same symptoms when affected by genital herpes.

Symptoms of genital herpes in adults and sexually active teenagers usually have a prodromal phase, in which the affected person may feel generally unwell and also experience:[5]

  • Tiredness
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph glands
  • Aches and pain in the lower back, groin and legs

The affected person may also experience a tingling, itching, or stinging sensation in the genital or anal area for between two hours and five days before the skin lesions appear.[2][6] The prodromal phase is followed by the development of lesions of the skin and mucous membranes, and can be located on the:[2][5]

  • Penis
  • Labia
  • Vagina
  • Buttocks
  • Thighs

These lesions begin as blisters, progress to red spots, then to fluid-filled blisters, which burst within a few days and become ulcers.[2][6] The first episode of genital herpes is usually the longest and most painful one the affected person will experience, with later episodes being generally shorter and less uncomfortable. People with genital herpes caused by HSV-1 are thought to experience fewer recurrences of the symptoms.

Good to know: About 66 percent of people with genital herpes do not show symptoms, but can still pass on the virus to their partners.[6]

If you are concerned that you or someone you care for may be experiencing the symptoms of genital herpes, contact your doctor Find My doctor location.

Diagnosing genital herpes

The diagnosis is usually based on symptoms and the appearance of herpes blisters. Testing fluid from the blister for the herpes simplex virus can confirm the diagnosis.

Laboratory tests

Four main types of tests are used to diagnose genital herpes:[3][5][7]

  • Polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which is accurate and fast
  • Direct fluorescent antibody, which is relatively quick and can identify specific strains of the virus
  • Type-specific serological tests, which tests for type-specific antibodies that develop in the first weeks after infection
  • Human herpesvirus culture, which requires a sample of fluid taken from an active lesion

Doctors decide which test to use based on the presentation of the condition. Culture and PCR testing are generally chosen for cases where there are active lesions.[7]

The Tzanck smear method, while previously widely used, is now considered to be relatively insensitive and nonspecific compared to PCR and viral HSV culture.

Good to know: Genital herpes cannot be diagnosed by pap smear or routine blood tests.

Who should be tested for genital herpes

Testing for genital herpes is generally widely available through general practitioners, gynecologists, and specialized sexual health clinics. People who should consider being tested for genital herpes include:[2][3]

  • People with a partner who reports genital herpes or shows symptoms of it
  • People with multiple sexual partners
  • People who have recently had unprotected sex with a new partner
  • People who are HIV-positive
  • Men who have sex with men
  • People who have another sexually transmitted infection, such as chlamydia
  • People who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy

It is important to note that the best time to be tested is while symptoms are present.

Treatment for genital herpes

In mild cases, where there are few blisters and the affected person is otherwise well, treatment may consist of antiviral creams. Tablets are also available to help prevent or reduce the symptoms of an outbreak of blisters. Severe or complicated cases need antiviral medication intravenously, i.e. through a drip. Pregnant women with genital herpes should be checked regularly; babies born vaginally can catch the herpes virus from their mother, and this may put the baby at risk for serious complications.

Antiviral medication

Treatment for genital herpes is intended to manage the infection rather than cure it. Genital herpes cannot be cured.[1] Antiviral treatment does, however, reduce the duration of the outbreak and decrease the likelihood of the virus being passed on to others. To be maximally effective, antiviral treatment has to be started as early as possible, while the lesions are still forming or even before when the prodromal symptoms are felt.

Antiviral drugs used in the treatment of genital herpes include:[1][2]

  • Aciclovir
  • Famciclovir
  • Valaciclovir

Good to know: Because genital herpes is the result of a viral infection, antibiotics are not effective. Antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections. Furthermore, topical creams intended for the treatment of cold sores are not effective against genital herpes.

In some cases, where the affected person experiences frequent or prolonged outbreaks, a longer-term course of oral antivirals may be prescribed to reduce the severity of episodes.[1]

Managing pain and discomfort

Because herpes cannot be eliminated from the body, episodes can recur throughout life. Some remedies that people affected by an active episode of genital herpes can use to relieve the discomfort are:[1][5]

  • Using acetaminophen, also known as paracetamol, or ibuprofen to manage the pain
  • Applying ice packs to the affected area of skin
  • Wearing loose-fitting clothes and underwear made from breathable, natural fibers such as cotton

Good to know: Never apply ice directly to the skin; always wrap it in a clean cloth or plastic bag. Petroleum jelly can damage condoms, contraceptive caps, and diaphragms.[5]

Living with genital herpes

Many people who are affected by genital herpes deal with feelings of embarrassment, anxiety, and low self-esteem. For this reason, many people living with this condition may find counseling helpful.[1]

Preventing genital herpes

Using condoms and lubricants during a sexual intercourse helps to prevent catching the herpes virus. Avoiding sex while blisters are present may also help.

If you are concerned that you or someone you care for may have genital herpes, You can search for the nearest doctor Find my doctor.

Other names for genital herpes

  • Herpes genitalis
  • Herpes simplex genitalis

Genital herpes FAQs

  1. CATIE. “Genital Herpes”. 2016. Accessed 8 January 2019.

  2. American Family Physician. “Diagnosis and Management of Genital Ulcers”. February 2012. Accessed 8 January 2019.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Genital Herpes – CDC Fact Sheet (Detailed)”. 9 February 2017. Accessed 8 January 2019.

  4. Medscape. “Herpes simplex”. 1 March 2018. Accessed 8 January 2019.

  5. FPA.org. “Genital herpes”. October 2017. Accessed 8 January 2019.

  6. STDCheck.com. “Genital Herpes Symptoms in Men”. 19 September 2018. Accessed 8 January 2019.

  7. UpToDate. “Epidemiology, clinical manifestations, and diagnosis of genital herpes simplex virus infection”. 13 December 2018. Accessed 25 February 2019.

  8. The New Zealand Herpes Foundation. “Herpes myths vs facts”. Accessed 8 January 2019.

  9. BMC Cancer. “Seropositivity to herpes simplex virus type 2, but not type 1 is associated with cervical cancer: NHANES (1999–2014)”. 7 November 2017. Accessed 8 January 2019.

  10. Biomedical Reports. “Herpes simplex virus type 2 or human herpesvirus 8 infection and prostate cancer risk: A meta-analysis”. March 2013. Accessed 8 January 2019.

  11. AidsMap. “Factsheet Herpes”. November 2017. Accessed 8 January 2019.

  12. I-Base. “Genital Herpes”. 1 December 2015. Accessed 8 January 2019.

  13. Sexually Transmitted Infections. [“Genital HSV‐1 infections”] (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2564733). June 2006. Accessed 8 January 2019.

  14. World Journal of Gastroenterology. “Sexually transmitted infections of the anus and rectum”. 7 November 2014. Accessed 8 January 2019.

  15. Postgraduate Medical Journal. “Sexually transmitted proctitis”. November 2006. Accessed 8 January 2019.

  16. World Health Organisation. “Herpes simplex virus”. 31 January 2017. Accessed 8 January 2019.

**Q: What is Genital Herpes?**

**A:** Genital herpes ⁢is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the⁢ herpes simplex virus ‍type 1 (HSV-1) ⁣or type 2 (HSV-2). ‌It⁢ is a common ⁣infection ‌that affects both ​men and women.

**Keywords:** Genital herpes,‌ HSV-1, HSV-2, sexually ​transmitted infection, STI

**Q: How is Genital Herpes Transmitted?**

**A:** Genital herpes is transmitted‍ through skin-to-skin contact with an infected person ⁢during ⁢oral, vaginal, or anal sex.​ It can also be spread from an infected mother to her newborn during childbirth.

**Keywords:** Transmission, skin-to-skin‌ contact, oral sex, vaginal sex, anal sex

**Q: What are the Symptoms of ⁤Genital Herpes?**

**A:** Symptoms of genital herpes can vary depending on the individual. Some people may experience mild symptoms, while others may have severe outbreaks. Common symptoms include:

* Painful blisters or sores on the genitals,⁣ buttocks, or rectum

* Itching or burning sensation

* Fever

* Chills

*‍ Muscle aches

* Swollen lymph nodes

**Keywords:** Symptoms, blisters, sores, ‌itching, burning,‌ fever, chills, ​muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes

**Q: How is Genital Herpes Diagnosed?**

**A:** Genital herpes is diagnosed⁢ through a physical exam and⁣ medical history.⁢ In some cases, a swab of the ⁤blisters or sores may​ be‍ taken ⁤and tested for the herpes simplex ⁢virus.

**Keywords:** Diagnosis, physical exam, medical‍ history, swab⁤ test, ⁢herpes simplex virus

**Q:​ How is Genital Herpes‌ Treated?**

**A:** There is no cure⁤ for‍ genital herpes, but antiviral medications‍ can help reduce the severity and frequency of ⁢outbreaks. ‌These medications can be taken orally or applied topically.

**Keywords:** Treatment, antiviral⁣ medications, outbreaks, ‍oral medication, topical medication

**Q: How Can Genital Herpes be Prevented?**

**A:** The following measures ⁣can help prevent genital herpes transmission:

* Use ‍condoms​ every time you have sex

* Get vaccinated against HSV-1 and ⁤HSV-2 ⁣(currently only available for HSV-2)

* Avoid sexual contact if you or your partner has any ⁣symptoms

* Talk to your doctor⁣ about‌ preventive measures

**Keywords:** Prevention, condoms, vaccination, symptoms, ⁢doctor consultation

**Q: Is Genital Herpes a Serious Condition?**

**A:** Genital herpes can ‌be a serious condition, especially for pregnant women or ⁣individuals with weakened immune systems.⁣ It can lead to complications such as:

* ‍Neonatal herpes⁤ in newborns

*⁤ Increased risk of HIV transmission

* Cervical cancer in women

**Keywords:**⁤ Seriousness, pregnancy, weakened immune systems, neonatal herpes, HIV transmission, cervical cancer


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *