Genital herpes is a common sexually transmitted infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types of HSV that can cause genital herpes – HSV-1 and HSV-2.
According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 536 million people worldwide aged 15-49 years were living with genital HSV-1 infection in 2003, and an estimated 267 million women and 150 million men worldwide were living with genital HSV-2 infection in 2012.
Genital herpes is highly contagious and can cause painful sores on the genitals. Read on to learn more about the signs, symptoms, causes, risk factors, and prevention of this condition.
What Is Genital Herpes? How It Is Caused?
Genital herpes is an infection caused by HSV which belongs to the Herpesviridae family. HSV-1 and HSV-2 are transmitted through direct contact with sores or body fluids of an infected person. The viruses initially infect the skin and mucous membranes before moving to the nerve cells where they become latent.
The viruses reactivate periodically causing recurrent outbreaks. HSV-1 is mainly transmitted by oral-to-oral contact and causes oral herpes. However, HSV-1 can also be transmitted to the genital area during oral sex causing genital herpes.
HSV-2 is a sexually transmitted infection that causes genital herpes. Most cases of genital herpes are caused by HSV-2. However, the number of cases caused by HSV-1 is increasing due to more oral-genital contact.
Signs And Symptoms Of Genital Herpes
The signs and symptoms of genital herpes can range from mild to severe. Many people with genital herpes don’t experience any symptoms at all. When symptoms do occur, the first outbreak is generally the most severe. Recurrent outbreaks tend to be milder.
Signs and symptoms of a primary outbreak may include:
- Multiple painful blisters or open sores on the genitals, buttocks, thighs, or anal area
- Swollen lymph nodes in the groin
- Pain or difficulty urinating
Signs of recurrent outbreaks may include:
- Tingling, itching, or burning sensation around the genitals
- Small blisters that break open to form ulcers
- Vaginal discharge
The sores usually heal within 2-4 weeks. Other symptoms like pain and itching may persist for a few weeks after the sores have healed. Seek medical advice if you experience these symptoms to get tested and treated.
Risk Factors For Genital Herpes
There are certain factors that can increase your risk of getting infected with genital herpes:
Genital herpes can be transmitted even when the infected person does not have active symptoms. So it is important to practice safe sex by using condoms consistently and correctly.
Precautions To Prevent Genital Herpes
Abstaining from sex when symptoms are present is the best way to prevent the spread of genital herpes. Other precautions include:
- Use male latex condoms correctly every time you have sex. However, condoms cannot provide 100% protection against genital herpes.
- Avoiding unprotected skin-to-skin genital contact when symptoms are present.
- Taking antiviral medications daily to prevent outbreaks or reduce the frequency of recurrence.
- Telling your partner about your infection so you both can take precautions.
Pregnant women with genital herpes should inform their doctor so they can be monitored closely. Antiviral medication may be given from 36 weeks of pregnancy to reduce the risk of a recurrent outbreak around the time of delivery. A caesarean delivery is usually recommended if blisters or sores are present during birth to prevent infecting the baby.
Genital herpes is a prevalent sexually transmitted infection that can cause painful genital sores and other distressing symptoms. Abstaining from sexual activity during outbreaks and using condoms consistently can help lower your risk of acquiring genital herpes.
Antiviral medications are available to shorten the duration of outbreaks and prevent recurrences. If you are pregnant and have genital herpes, inform your doctor immediately so preventive measures can be taken to avoid passing it on to your baby.
Ans: No, there is currently no cure for genital herpes. However, medications are available to control outbreaks and manage symptoms.
Ans: It is very unlikely to get genital herpes from kissing. However, oral herpes (usually HSV-1) can be transmitted through mouth-to-mouth contact.
Ans: No, genital herpes cannot be transmitted through contact with toilet seats, bed linens, swimming pools, or bathtubs. It spreads through direct contact with sores or bodily fluids.
Ans: Yes, many people with genital herpes do not experience any symptoms at all but can still transmit the virus to partners.
Ans: For most healthy adults genital herpes does not cause serious health problems. However, for newborns and people with weakened immune systems, it can lead to more severe complications like meningitis, blindness, or disseminated infection.
◾ World Health Organization. Herpes simplex virus. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/herpes-simplex-virus
◾ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Genital Herpes – CDC Fact Sheet. https://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/stdfact-herpes.htm
◾ U.S. National Library of Medicine. Genital herpes. https://medlineplus.gov/genitalherpes.html