There are many sexually transmitted diseases out there and genital herpes is one of the most common ones. Genital herpes is a viral disease caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). It is characterized by blisters or open sores located in the genital areas of men and women. There are two forums of this virus: HSV Type 1 (HSV-1) which affects the mouth and lips, and HSV Type 2 (HSV-2) which affects the genitals and anus. In the past, genital herpes were caused only by HSV-2. That has changed in recent years and more people are getting genital herpes from HSV-1 through participation in oral sex with an infected partner.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 16% of people in the United States are infected with HSV-2. That represents 1 out of 6 people between the ages of 14 and 49. More women than men are infected with genital herpes because it is easier for infected males to transmit the virus to their female partners than for infected females to pass it to their male partners.
Herpes Signs and Symptoms
Although the herpes simplex virus lives in the body, it goes through periods of activity and remission. When it is active, the virus travels through the nerves to the site of the infection and begins replicating itself. Sores will appear on the genitalia or mouth, which eventually turn into ulcers and may bleed. The person is highly infectious at this time and can spread the disease to another person by kissing, performing oral sex, or engaging in vaginal or anal sex with him or her.
When people are first infected with genital herpes, the sores typically appear within the first 14 days and take up to 4 weeks to heal. A newly infected person may experience multiple breakouts within the first year. However, the reoccurrence of the outbreaks decrease in frequency over time. Other symptoms of a herpes infection include:
- Decreased appetite
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Muscle aches
- Painful urination or vaginal discharge
- Tingling, itching, or pain in the infected area prior to an outbreak
Unfortunately, many people with the HSV do not present any symptoms and, therefore, don’t know they have the disease. Other people may have very mild symptoms that are easily ignored or mistaken for something else.
While genital herpes is not life threatening, complications can develop during the course of the disease. Genital sores are open wounds, which increase your chances of contracting additional STDs including HIV and AIDS. Women can spread the infection to their newborn babies which may cause blindness, brain damage, or infant death.
Genital sores that form around the urethra can cause inflammation that makes the urethra swell. You may need to use a catheter for a few days to empty your bladder if this occurs. Sores that form around or inside the anus can cause rectal inflammation (proctitis) and, in rare cases, the herpes simplex virus may cause inflammation in the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord.
There is no cure for the herpes simplex virus. Treatment for the disease is focused on managing symptoms; namely reducing or eliminating the appearance of the sores. Your doctor will likely prescribe antiviral medication such as Zovirax, Famvir, or Valtrex. You must be careful with prescription drugs, however, since they often cause side effects.