Genital herpes is a very contagious viral infection that mostly occurs in the genital area. Symptoms include burning, itching and the formation of blisters in the genital area. You can find more information below.

What is genital herpes?

Genital herpes , also known as genital herpes , is a common sexually transmitted infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). HSV has two forms, they are HSV1 and HSV2. HSV1 is more commonly seen around the mouth, but can sometimes occur on the genitals. HSV2 occurs mainly in and around the genital area.

It is estimated that about one in eight people have HSV 2, and about 80 percent of those infected may not be aware they have HSV2. It is often impossible to tell when a person first got an HSV infection because the first symptoms may appear weeks or even years later.

There is no cure for genital herpes, but medication can help manage and reduce the severity of symptoms as well as reduce the frequency of recurrence and the risk of spread.

Many people feel great anxiety about herpes, but it’s important to remember that the skin is only affected for relatively short periods of time and most people only have a few relapses.

Pregnant women with genital herpes should discuss this with their doctor because very rarely, a herpes infection can be transmitted to the baby during delivery, which can cause serious problems.

Who is affected by genital herpes?

Genital herpes is more common in women than men. While one out of every five women between the ages of 14-49 has genital herpes, the rate in the same age range for men is one in ten.

A woman’s anatomy (body) puts her at greater risk for genital herpes than men. Small tears in the vaginal tissue can make it easier to catch this virus.

Genital herpes is also much more common in African-American women. One in two African-American women between the ages of 14 and 49 is infected with HSV-2, which causes genital herpes.

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Causes of genital herpes

Since infection with genital herpes occurs almost entirely through unprotected sex, the infection is considered one of the sexually transmitted diseases. Genital herpes is caused by type 2 herpes viruses in 50 to 70 out of 100 cases. Type 1 herpes viruses are responsible for genital herpes in 20 to 30 out of 100 cases. Viruses are mainly transmitted through infected bodily fluids during sexual intercourse.

With the first infection, the immune system manages to fight herpes viruses on the mucous membranes with antibodies it produces. But then the viruses migrate along the nerve pathways and hide their genetic material (DNA) in the nuclei of nerve cells. If the immune system is weakened, the viruses become active again and migrate along the nerve pathways to the surface of the skin and symptoms begin to reappear.

Who is at risk?

The risk of infection increases as the number of partners increases. If you have many sexual partners (more than five per year), you should be examined for sexually transmitted infections once a year. (For more information on this subject, you can read our sexually transmitted diseases test article.) In addition, immune defense disorders are also responsible for the re-activation of latent herpes viruses.

Weakening of the immune system, febrile infections and increased stress are also risk factors for genital herpes. Effects such as sleep disorders or excessive workload can trigger this situation by weakening the immune system. In women, hormonal changes such as menstruation or pregnancy are often responsible for a new attack of herpes.

Genital herpes and pregnancy

Herpes viruses can be transmitted from mother to child during birth. As a result, newborn babies can develop inflammation in the brain, lungs, and liver. If the pregnant woman has an active herpes infection during childbirth, then a cesarean section is performed.

herpes infection in infants

Herpes infections in infants are very rare and in most cases preventable. The first symptoms in the form of skin blisters and fever usually begin a few days to six weeks after birth. In about 50 percent of affected children, symptoms are limited to the skin, eyes, or mouth.

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About one-third of infected babies develop meningitis . About 17 percent of those affected develop liver, pneumonia, blood clotting disorders and inflammation, which are often fatal.

Genital herpes symptoms

Most women with genital herpes do not know they have it. However, if symptoms are experienced during the initial genital herpes infection, they can be severe. This disease can be severe and long-lasting in people whose immune systems are not working properly, such as women with HIV .

A few days after sexual contact with someone who has the herpes virus, sores (small red dots that can turn into blisters) may appear, for example, in the mouth or vagina, depending on where the virus entered your body.

Some women might confuse these with things like fly bites. Usually, after a few days, these sores crust over and heal without scarring. Sometimes, a second relapse occurs soon after the first outbreak and symptoms may reappear.

The first symptoms of genital herpes usually appear two to 12 days after having sexual contact with someone who has this infection. Symptoms can last two to four weeks. Other early symptoms of genital herpes include:

  • Feeling of pressure in the abdomen
  • Flu-like symptoms, including fever
  • Itching or burning sensation in the genital or anal area, depending on where the virus is transmitted
  • Pain in the legs, buttocks, or genital area
  • Blisters where the virus is infected
  • unusual vaginal discharge

When should you see a doctor?

If you have symptoms that worry you, it is a good idea to see a doctor as soon as possible. Because in all diseases, early diagnosis and treatment are important for the course of the disease.

Genital herpes diagnosis

To identify genital herpes, the doctor takes a piece of the affected skin areas. This sample is then examined in the laboratory for herpes viruses. Depending on the situation, the type of virus can also be determined.

Genital herpes often cannot be reliably determined on the basis of skin symptoms. On the one hand, typical symptoms do not always occur. On the other hand, this condition can also occur with other skin and venereal diseases. For example, it can also occur with sexually transmitted infections such as psoriasis or chlamydia .

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In people without symptoms, it is more difficult to identify the infection caused by herpes viruses. In such a case, a test for herpes antibodies can be used to check for antibodies in the blood. If HSV-2 antibodies are found, genital herpes may occur. If HSV-1 antibodies are found and symptoms appear later, it is difficult to predict which part of the body will be affected.

Also, tests often cannot tell when an infection is present.

Genital herpes treatment

Genital herpes often cannot be cured because the herpes virus cannot be completely removed from the body. Therefore, treatment is only aimed at curing cold sores, relieving symptoms, and curing and shortening the course of the disease. If there is any doubt, treatment should be started directly.

How long does genital herpes heal? With initial infection, oral drug therapy shortens the virus clearance time, accelerates healing, and reduces pain. Treatment is local or systemic depending on the severity. Local complaints can be alleviated, for example, by using zinc ointments.

These ointments dry out the blisters and thus promote healing. Antiviral drugs in the form of ointments and tablets inhibit the reproduction of viruses. If there is a strong tendency to relapse, low-dose and long-term treatment with antivirals is recommended.

Can genital herpes be prevented?

Because many people carry herpes viruses throughout the body, anyone who is sexually active can get these viruses. However, with certain precautions, the risk of infection can be significantly reduced.

Genital herpes patients are advised to avoid sexual intercourse as soon as the first symptom appears. Because when the symptoms show themselves, the risk of infecting someone is very high.

But you can still get the virus even if you have no symptoms. In the symptom-free period, condoms can significantly reduce the risk of infection. It also provides protection against other venereal diseases.

If you have genital herpes, it makes sense to talk to your partner about it. If both partners take a blood test for antibodies, they can find out who is carrying which type of virus in the body and whether there is a risk of infection.

Also, those with genital herpes and those taking antiviral medication are slightly less contagious.

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