Genital Herpes in Women and Men
Herpes is a common viral infection. The acute phase is characterized by a painful rash with small blisters and sores. The virus may also remain in a dormant state inside the spinal cord without affecting the carrier’s health.
There are two types of herpes simplex viruses: herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV2).
It is estimated that more than 90% of the world's population has HSV-1, and 20% of people of reproductive age are infected with HSV-2. Contrary to common misconception, genital herpes can be caused by either HSV-2 or HSV-1. The clinical symptoms of these viruses are indistinguishable from each other.
How Is Genital Herpes Spread?
The virus is lifelong once a person gets infected. You can get genital herpes through all types of sexual contact with an infected partner. At the same time, the herpes virus is not stable and cannot survive in the external environment. A person cannot get herpes from toilets, bedding, or swimming pools.
What Does Genital Herpes Look Like?
The occurrence of symptoms and spread of herpes progress through a series of stages. Genital herpes undergoes structural changes at each stage.
- The first symptoms of genital herpes become apparent right away. It causes itching and redness in the genital area. It is followed by an eruption of small, fluid-filled blisters. In women, blistering lesions appear in the perineal area, inner thighs, or around the anus. The symptoms typically affect the head of the penis and foreskin in men. In some cases, the rash may develop in the area of the urethra.
- The herpes rash is then accompanied by other symptoms, such as severe itching and burning. The area with blisters becomes swollen or inflamed. If blisters form on the urethral lining, they may cause a painful or burning sensation while urinating. Another common symptom is tingling around the genitals.
- On day 5 of an outbreak, the blisters burst to leave small sores. The process can be described as extremely painful.
- The mucosa begins to recover, regenerating damaged tissues. Genital herpes sores take an average of 7 to 14 days to heal completely.
A rash in the genital area may trigger swelling of the lymph glands in the groin. People infected with genital herpes tend to have an elevated body temperature. They also complain of malaise, headache, and muscle pain.
Genital herpes recurrences last 2 to 3 weeks and can occur 5-20 times a year. An infected person is usually most contagious during this period (1 ml of blister fluid may contain between 1 and 10 million viral particles).
Herpes infection poses a serious risk to pregnant women as it can be spread to an infant.
What Triggers Herpes?
Outbreaks of herpes are more likely to happen in people with weakened immune systems.
- overheating or hypothermia
- acute exacerbations of chronic diseases
- vitamin deficiencies
- fatigue and sleep abnormalities
- alcohol abuse
- emotional instability caused by stress
Women may have a monthly recurrence of genital herpes. It was determined that herpes outbreaks are linked to a menstrual cycle. The increased production of progesterone after the period creates favorable conditions for the activation of the virus.
Genital Herpes Treatment
Although there is no cure for genital herpes, certain medications may prevent or lower the number of outbreaks. Taking antiherpetic medicines every day can decrease the risk of spreading the infection to your sexual partner(s).
If your pap test for STIs is negative, it does not mean that you do not have a herpes infection. Herpes simplex virus is rarely detected by PCR. The best way to confirm HSV diagnosis is to test blood to detect IgM (early antibodies) and IgG (late antibodies). You can get tested for herpes at the Buckhead Clinic or seek medical help if you have symptoms of herpes.