What is Genital Herpes?
Genital herpes is one of two different but related viruses. Herpes simplex (or type) two is also referred to as HSV-2, and this is the genital variety. HSV-1 is oral herpes, also called herpes simplex (or type) one. Both strains of the virus are common in men and women from all walks of life, and from all parts of the world. As with other STDs, you greatly increase your risk of acquiring genital herpes if you have unprotected sex with multiple partners.
Genital herpes usually results in blisters and open sores in and around the genitalia of infected men and women. Some carriers do not exhibit any signs of the virus, while others may fall victim to regular outbreaks. The sores associated with genital herpes often appear in clusters, and can be quite painful. If you have contracted HSV-2, the first outbreak often appears soon after you were exposed to an infected partner. The first sores may manifest themselves within a week.
Genital Herpes Symptoms for Men
Men who have picked up the herpes simplex-2 virus often exhibit flu like symptoms within days of becoming infected. Fatigue, fever and a loss of appetite are frequently the first signs that all is not well. Soon after, men may feel tender and sore spots around their genitals and anus. These often quickly develop into blisters and weeping sores that ooze fluid.
In many cases, the first attack of genital herpes is the worst. The majority of men who are infected with HSV-2 see their outbreaks become less painful over time. They may also experience fewer episodes that don't last as long, and they learn to live with the condition. The sores continue to appear, but they may become more itchy, and less painful as the body adapts to accommodate the viral invader.
Genital Herpes Symptoms for Women
The sores that women develop after they have been infected with HSV-2 are very much like those of their male counterparts. With women, the sores and blisters will develop inside the vagina, as well as on her external genitalia. There may be a tingling and tender sensation in the early stages of an outbreak. Women also may have to deal with sores inside their anus, as some men do. This can cause discomfort and unusual discharge during bowel movements.
Both men and women can develop sores around their mouths if they engage in unprotected oral sex with an HSV-2 partner. As with genital blisters, these can ooze a yellowish discharge. It is this liquid that spreads the virus to different parts of the body.
How Do You Get Genital Herpes?
Any man or woman who is sexually active, and engages in unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex may become infected with the HSV-2 virus. It is also possible for those with compromised immune systems or HIV to acquire the disease by being exposed to the discharge from the sores. For example, touching a weeping sore on an HSV-2 carrier's genitals and then touching your mouth, eyes, or other mucous membranes is very ill advised.
Women can give the disease to their babies if they have a natural childbirth. If a woman is known to have herpes, and has an outbreak near her delivery date, she will often be encouraged to undergo a c-section. Neonatal herpes in infants can be fatal.
Risks and Effects of Genital Herpes
If you are carrying genital herpes, there is always the risk that you will pass the disease on to others if precautions are not taken. This is especially important if you are having sex with an uninfected partner while you are experiencing an outbreak.
Women with genital herpes run a greater risk of miscarriage and other complications should she become pregnant. It is entirely possible for her to pass the illness onto her child, with potentially catastrophic consequences. With proper planning, precautions, and medication, an infected woman can often still give birth to a healthy baby.
Genital Herpes Treatment
Genital herpes cannot be cured, but it can be managed with the proper medications, ointments and precautions. As HSV-2 attacks usually become less painful and frequent over time, it may just be a wait and see game (with your doctor's supervision) to decide the best way to minimize the discomfort that an outbreak can bring. Over the counter and prescription creams can ease the pain that HSV-2 blisters bring, and shorten the duration of an episode.
Genital Herpes Testing
Most doctors will be able to make a fairly accurate assessment of your condition just by examining the sores that will develop if you have been exposed to the herpes simplex-2 virus. Tissue samples will often be collected from the sores for testing to confirm the diagnosis.
Complications from Untreated Genital Herpes
There are rarely serious complications from HSV-2 if the condition is properly monitored, and managed. Pregnant women carrying the virus and their unborn children may be at the greatest risk.
Can We Prevent Genital Herpes?
Keep your sex safe, and you can virtually eliminate your need to worry about contracting genital herpes. In a best case scenario, you will be involved in a monogamous relationship with a trusted (and tested) partner. Sexual abstinence may be less fun (no fun?) but you will eliminate the risk of infection by an STD, genital herpes included. Avoiding physical contact with weeping sores on an infected individual during an outbreak is also highly recommended.