Genital herpes: transmission, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment
Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by two types of viruses Herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) and Herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2). Genital herpes is common in the United States. More than one out of every six people aged 14 to 49 years have genital herpes. it is more common in men than in women (because of the female body anatomy) and people with multiple sexual partners.
HSV-1 is the main cause of herpetic sores (cold sores), which are painful blisters (fluid-filled bumps) around the mouth that can break open and secrete fluid. It can spread to the genitals during oral sex. While HSV-2 causes genital herpes.
This infection can be gotten through vaginal, oral, and anal sex with an infected person. An uninfected person can get infected once they come in contact with
- A herpetic sore ( around buttocks, thighs, mouth, anus, urethra, vagina, cervix, penis, scrotum).
- Body fluids like saliva, semen, and vaginal secretions depending on if your patient has an oral or genital herpes infection
You can contract herpes infection from a sexual partner with no visible signs or symptoms. You can also get genital herpes infection from someone who has oral herpes if you have oral sex.
When these viruses get into the body, they integrate themselves into your cells and then stay in the nerve cells of your pelvis. These viruses tend to multiply or adapt to their environments very easily, thus, making it very difficult to treat them.
Most people with herpes infection do not show any symptoms or might show mild symptoms. Those who have symptoms can show them during the first outbreak. It can be very severe. It can also produce severe symptoms in people with a weak immune system (eg HIV patients) because herpes can cause a decrease in CD4 cell count (the cell that HIV targets in other to get into the body) found in the lining of the genitals.
The symptoms includes:
- Blisters on or around the genitals, rectum, or mouth which rupture and leave behind ulcers that become crusted and heal by scarring. These ulcers can lead to a burning sensation while urinating.
- Flu-like symptoms such as muscle ache and fever
- Swollen lymph nodes in your groin.
- Pain in the buttocks, legs, or around the genitals.
- Unusual genital discharge.
Please see your doctor if you are experiencing any of these symptoms.
Your doctor can make a diagnosis by looking at the symptoms you have, or use a cotton swab to take a sample of the fluid secretions from the sores.
Sometimes, blood tests can be done to find the herpes antibody in a situation where the patient does not have any symptoms.
There is no cure for herpes. The symptoms usually clear up by themselves, but the blisters might reoccur. Treatment from a sexual health clinic can help.
- The first time you have genital herpes, your doctor may prescribe to you antiviral medications to stop the symptoms from getting worse. You need to start taking the medication within 5 days of the symptoms appearing.
- A cream might also be prescribed for the pain
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If you have had symptoms for more than 5 days before you go to a sexual health clinic, you can still get tested to find out the cause.
See your doctor or visit a sexual health clinic if the blisters reoccur or if you have been previously diagnosed with genital herpes and need treatment for a current outbreak. Outbreaks usually disappear by themselves so you may not need treatment. Recurrent outbreaks are usually milder than the first episode of genital herpes.
Over time, outbreaks tend to happen less often and be less severe. Some people never have outbreaks. People who have more than 6 outbreaks in a year may benefit from taking antiviral medications for 6 to 12 months. If you still have outbreaks of genital herpes during this time, you may be referred to a specialist. Antiviral medications may help shorten the duration of an outbreak by 1 or 2 days if you start taking it as soon as symptoms appear.
Herpes and pregnancy
A pregnant woman with genital herpes can transmit this infection to her baby during delivery (called neonatal herpes). If you have genital herpes before pregnancy, there is still a risk of transmission but the risk is not as much as if you get it during pregnancy.
If you contract herpes during pregnancy, speak to your doctor about it. Your doctor might recommend an antiviral medication towards the time of delivery to prevent outbreaks but if you are still having outbreaks during the time of delivery, your doctor might suggest C-section.
Dealing with Herpes Outbreak
If you have been diagnosed with genital herpes and you’re having an outbreak:
- Ensure you keep the area around the blisters clean by using salt or plain water to prevent it from getting infected
- Apply an ice pack wrapped in a flannel to soothe pain
- Please wash your hands before and after applying cream or jelly
- Apply petroleum jelly (such as Vaseline) or painkilling cream (such as 5% lidocaine) to reduce pain when you pee
- Pour water over your genitals while you pee this will help ease the pain.