What is genital herpes?
Genital herpes is an STD caused by two types of viruses. The viruses are called herpes simplex type 1 and herpes simplex type 2.
Signs and Symptoms
- Most people may never develop symptoms or the symptoms are too mild to notice.
- Develop within 2-30 days, or longer, or not at all.
- Small, painful fluid-filled blisters on genitals, mouth or anus.
- Blisters progress to open sores that crust over and heal within 1-2 weeks.
- Blisters may be “hidden” in the vagina.
- First episode most severe, subsequent episodes milder.
- Itching or burning on skin in area where blisters are about to appear.
- Initial infection often accompanied by fever, headache and swollen lymph nodes.
- Blisters go away, but infection is still in the body.
- Blisters can return periodically, but usually with shorter duration and less severity.
Genital herpes is spread by:
- Vaginal sex
- Oral sex
- Anal sex
- Contact with infected person’s lesions
- Infected mother to newborn
Herpes can also be spread from one area of the body to another via contact with or touching an infected area.
Viral shedding may occur in the absence of blisters, so transmission is possible when lesions are absent. Most transmission occurs in absence of sores.
Genital herpes can:
- Spread to sex partners
- Make infection by other germs, like HIV, easier, as the blisters provide easy entry to other STD germs
- Cause recurrent painful outbreaks
Genital herpes and pregnancy
- Most pregnant women with recurrent genital herpes deliver normal infants.
- Newborn may acquire infection from mother during delivery.
- Infection in newborns may cause death, or severe damage to the brain, lungs, and liver.
- Risk is highest for infants born to mothers who have the first episode of genital herpes during pregnancy.
- The surest way to avoid transmission of sexually transmitted diseases is to abstain from sexual contact or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and is known to be uninfected.
- Latex condoms, when used consistently and correctly, can reduce the risk of transmission only when the infected areas are covered or protected by the condom.
- Use a new latex condom properly for any sexual contact.
- Limit the number of sex partners.
- Notify sex partners immediately if infected.
- Make sure partners are tested and treated.
Testing and Treatment
- Get a test from a medical provider if the infection is suspected.
- No cure is available; infection persists for life.
- Recurrent episodes of blisters can be decreased by taking antiviral medication each day.
- Treatment of recurrent episodes generally shortens the length of outbreaks.
- Comfort measures are available for recurrent episodes.
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