Genital herpes is a common sexually transmitted infection that affects both men and women. Characteristics of genital herpes include pain, itching and sores in your genital area. Unfortunately, you may not encounter any signs or symptoms of genital herpes. While you may have no visible sores, it is possible that you are infected.
The herpes simplex virus (HSV) contributes to genital herpes. Sexual contact is the reason behind the spread of the virus. After the initial infection, the virus lies dormant in your body and can reactivate several times a year.
There's no cure for genital herpes, but certain medicines can ease symptoms and reduce the risk of infecting others. Using condoms can help prevent transmission of the virus.
What causes Genital Herpes?
There are two types of herpes simplex virus infections can cause genital herpes:
- HSV-1: The virus normally causes cold sores or fever blisters around your mouth, though it can be spread to your genital area during oral sex.
- HSV-2: The virus causes genital herpes. It spreads through sexual and skin-to-skin contact.
Most people who've been infected with HSV don’t know they have the infection because they have no signs or symptoms. When present, the symptoms of genital herpes include:
- Pain or itching that begins after exposure to an infected sexual partner
- Small red bumps or tiny white blisters
- Ulcers that form when the blisters rupture
- Scabs that form as the ulcers heal
Sores appear where the infection entered your body. You can spread the infection by either touching it or rubbing. Men and women can develop sores on the buttocks, anus and mouth. Women can also develop sores in or on the vagina
, external genitalia and cervix
. Men can also develop sores in or on the penis
, thighs and urethra.
Genital herpes depend on person to person. The signs and symptoms may reappear, off and on, for years. Some people experience it multiple times each year.
Tests and diagnosis of Genital Herpes
Based on a physical exam and the results of certain laboratory tests
, your doctor can diagnose genital herpes.
- Viral culture: This test involves taking a tissue sample or scraping of the sores for examination in the laboratory.
- Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test: This test is used to copy your DNA from a sample of your blood, tissue from a sore or spinal fluid. The DNA can then be tested to establish the presence of HSV and determine which type of HSV you have.
- Blood test: This test analyzes a sample of your blood for the presence of HSV antibodies.
Sadly, there is no cure for genital herpes. Some medicines may:
- Help sores heal sooner during an initial outbreak
- Minimize the harshness and duration of symptoms in recurrent outbreaks
- Reduce the chances of reappearance
- Reduce the chance of transmitting the herpes virus to another
Antiviral medications such as Zovirax, Famvir and Valtrex may be helpful.
Abstain from sexual activity or limit sexual contact to only one person who is infection-free. If either partner has an outbreak of herpes in the genital area or anywhere else, avoid intercourse. Use a latex
condom during every sexual contact.