Genital Herpes: Symptoms, Causes And Treatment

Genital Herpes

Introduction

There are nine herpes viruses that can infect human beings, of which herpes zoster and herpes simplex virus are the most commonly occurring types. Herpes zoster may cause chickenpox or singles in the infected person, whereas herpes simplex is a more complicated affair.

Herpes simplex virus can be categorized into two categories, namely, herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). HSV-1 is called oral herpes as it is transmitted by oral-to-oral contact while HSV-2 is commonly referred to as genital herpes and is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). The most painful and dangerous part of contracting herpes is that they are lifelong infections. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), about 3.7 billion people under the age of 50 have HSV-1 while 491 million people aged 15-49 have HSV-2.

Symptoms

The symptoms of oral and genital herpes may recur from time to time in infected people. Genital herpes is diagnosed only after a physical exam which is then confirmed by a swab test or a blood test. In some cases, the doctors may take a tissue sample of the sores by scraping it gently for examining in the laboratory. The symptoms for HSV-1 and HSV-2 are different. The most commonly displayed symptoms are:

HSV-1:

Oral herpes is one of the most contagious diseases and the people who contract it are most often symptomatic. These twin factors are responsible for a large number of people who have oral herpes. 

Oral herpes leads to the development of painful sores and blisters around the mouth and lips, called fever blisters or cold sores, i.e. sores on the lips. This infection may also lead to the formation of ulcers in the mouth, tongue, and neck regions. Patients often feel a tingling or an itching sensation on their faces before getting sores or blisters. 

These blisters and ulcers may recur from time to time with the frequency of such recurrence being subject to the immunity of the patient and the treatment being sought by him/her. 

In cases where a patient who has contracted oral herpes has low immunity, it may cause severe symptoms like eye, nose, or even brain infection.

HSV-2:

Genital herpes occurs mostly among women. As per the World Health Organisation, 313 million people have herpes. 

Patients who contract genital herpes often develop genital and anal sores and ulcers. They may also experience itching or pain in the genital area before the blisters appear. Some people experience a sense of general illness or fatigue accompanied by fever and body aches.  In some cases, patients may also develop scabs where the skin crusts over. 

Women who have contracted the infection experience difficulty in urination, a feeling of pressure below the stomach region, swollen glands, and pain in the buttocks and the vaginal area. In some extreme cases, there might be ulcers and blisters that form in the cervix and external genitals. 

In some cases, the sores in the genital area of men close the urethra which leads to complications in the passage of urine. Most often, a catheter is inserted to drain the bladder.

Causes

Herpes is extremely infectious and contagious. The virus may be passed on through skin-to-skin contact as it breaks through the skin of one’s mouth, penis, vagina, and even urinary tract. Oral herpes can be caused due to coming in contact with an infected person’s clothes or saliva during sharing personal items or food items.

Genital herpes is sexually transmitted and is mostly spread when an infected person engages in sexual activity without a condom or a dental dam.  

In some rare cases, pregnant women who get infected during the latter part of their pregnancy with genital herpes run the risk of transmitting the infection to the unborn baby. The transmission may become apparent during tests conducted before delivery or after birth, where the baby might have bumps or ulcers on the body.

Treatment

The treatment of herpes is mostly centered on controlling the symptoms that come along with the infection and preventing or delaying the relapse of these symptoms. There are two major courses of treatment that doctors prescribe for the treatment of herpes, namely intermittent treatment and suppressive treatment.   

The symptoms of herpes are mostly treated by taking antiviral drugs and through self-care. Some lotions also might help in alleviating pain and preventing the spread of the infection to others. 

Antivirals:

These drugs work by slowing down the growth of herpes in the body and also help in containing the infection. A class of antivirals that are used to contain the spread of herpes in the body is acyclovir. It is used to relieve the symptoms of herpes and reduce its longevity.

Antivirals are often prescribed as a part of intermittent therapy to contain flare-ups and can be taken within two days of the appearance of any symptoms. They are also given for suppressive therapy wherein they are taken on a regular basis to prevent the occurrence of a flare-up. 

Antivirals reduce the multiplication of the virus in the body and on the skin surface. They also greatly reduce the chances of transmitting the virus through sexual contact. 

Hygiene and Awareness:

Since herpes is a recurring infection, infected patients must maintain a high level of hygiene to avoid relapses of the symptoms. People who have herpes should keep their genital area clean and dry and wear loose clothes to avoid getting any fresh infections. Patients should also be quick to change any material of clothing which causes itching or pain in the body, especially near the genital area.

Since oral herpes is asymptomatic, it is recommended that we avoid sharing water and juice bottles, cigarettes, food, and any other thing that may unknowingly expose us to the saliva of an infected person. It is also recommended to have regular check-ups to prevent the infection from getting worse. 

Lotions:

Some lotions that contain petroleum jelly, like Vaseline, are often prescribed to be applied on the blisters and ulcers to prevent the infection from spreading or getting worse. Doctors also prescribe painkiller lotions which help in alleviating pain and giving instant relief from itching and burning sensation. 

Conclusion

Herpes can be a nagging infection whose symptoms recur from time to time in infected patients. Since sexual intercourse is one of the primary causes of transmission of herpes, patients often hide its occurrence from family members and doctors due to social stigma induced embarrassment. 

However, it is important to consult a doctor as soon as one notices symptoms to contain its spread and prevent serious repercussions from occurring. In some progressive countries, diagnosed patients must reveal to their partner about having the infection before marriage as a failure to do so can attract penal action and punishment.