Genital Herpes: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Genital herpes is a common sexually transmitted infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Sexual contact is the primary way that the virus spreads. After the initial infection, the virus lies dormant in your body and can reactivate several times a year.

Symptoms of genital herpes

Symptoms may begin about two to 12 days after exposure to the virus. The symptoms may include:

  • Pain or itching. You may experience pain and tenderness in your genital area until the infection clears.
  • Small red bumps or tiny white blisters. These may appear a few days to a few weeks after infection.
  • Ulcers. These may form when blisters rupture and ooze or bleed. Ulcers may make it painful to urinate.
  • Scabs. Skin will crust over and form scabs as ulcers heal.

During an initial outbreak, you may have flu-like signs and symptoms such as swollen lymph nodes in your groin, headache, muscle aches and fever.

Differences in symptom location

Sores appear where the infection entered your body. You can spread the infection by touching a sore and then rubbing or scratching another area of your body, including your eyes.

Men and women can develop sores on the:

  • Buttocks and thighs
  • Anus
  • Mouth
  • Urethra (the tube that allows urine to drain from the bladder to the outside)

Women can also develop sores in or on the:

  • Vaginal area
  • External genitals
  • Cervix

Men can also develop sores in or on the:

  • Penis
  • Scrotum

Causes of genital herpes

Two types of herpes simplex virus cause genital herpes: HSV-1 (which usually causes cold sores) and HSV-2 (which usually causes genital herpes).

The viruses get into your body through your mucous membranes. Your mucous membranes are the thin layers of tissue that line the openings of your body. They can be found in your nose, mouth, and genitals.

Once the viruses are inside your body, they incorporate themselves into your cells and then stay in the nerve cells of your pelvis. Viruses tend to multiply or adapt to their environments very easily, which makes treating them difficult.

HSV-1 or HSV-2 can be found in infected people’s bodily fluids, including:

  • saliva
  • semen
  • vaginal secretions

Treatment of genital herpes

Treatment can reduce the outbreaks, but it can’t cure you of the herpes simplex viruses.

Medications

Antiviral drugs may help speed up the healing time of your sores and reduce pain. Medications may be taken at the first signs of an outbreak (tingling, itching, and other symptoms) to reduce the symptoms. People who get outbreaks may also be prescribed medicines to make it less likely that they’ll get outbreaks in the future.

Home care

Use mild cleansers when bathing or showering in warm water. Keep the infected site clean and dry. Wear loose cotton clothing to keep the area comfortable.

Outlook

You should practice safe sex and use condoms every time you have sex with someone. This will help prevent genital herpes and other STDs from spreading.

There’s no cure for genital herpes, but the condition can be managed with medication. The disease stays dormant within your body until something triggers an outbreak. Outbreaks can happen when you become stressed, sick, or tired. Your doctor will help you come up with a treatment plan that will help you manage your outbreaks.

Categories: Reproductive health

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