What is genital herpes?
Genital herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus. There are two types of herpes, they are known as herpes simplex virus type 1 (H.S.V.1) and type 2 (H.S.V.2). Type 1 most commonly affects the lips and mouth, they usually appear as coldsores. Type 2 generally affects the genital and anal area. Genital herpes always used to be caused by type 2 but as more people are having oral sex, type 1 is also becoming common in the genital and anal area. These viruses are essentially identical and are caused by the same virus.
The herpes simplex virus is one of mankind’s most common infections, in fact it was known in Roman times and even mentioned by Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet.
How is genital herpes passed on?
Herpes is very contagious (the word herpes means to creep) and is passed on through skin contact with an infected person’s sores or blisters. The virus will then affect the area where it enters the body, for example, if you have oral sex with someone who has a coldsore on their mouth, you are in danger of catching genital herpes. The virus can be passed on in the following ways:
- Vaginal sex.
- Oral sex.
- Anal sex.
- Hand transfer (e.g. masturbation).
The virus is highly infectious when sores and blisters are present, the risk of you passing the infection on or catching the infection between episodes is much lower. However, on rare occasions the virus can be passed on when no sores or blisters are present.
What can I do to avoid catching genital herpes?
- Do not kiss a partner when they have coldsores around the mouth.
- Avoid oral sex when a partner has mouth or genital sores.
- Even with a condom genital or anal sex should be avoided when genital sores are present.
- Never use saliva to wet contact lenses, if you have sores around your mouth.
- Always wash your hands thoroughly before and after touching the affected area.
What are the signs and symptoms?
When a person has herpes for the first time, known as a primary infection, the symptoms are usually more severe than what they will be if it happens to reoccur. These symptoms can include:
- Itching or tingling on or around the penis, vagina or anus area. Normally an early sign a blister may appear.
- Small fluid-filled blisters in the genital or anal area. These blisters will burst and form a scab.
- Pain on passing urine, especially for women, when the urine passes the infected area.
- Flu like symptoms – fever, backache and headache.
- Swollen glands in the groin area.
If you believe you have any form of genital herpes visit your doctor or aG.U.M. clinic for advice and treatment.
How is genital herpes diagnosed?
The doctor will begin by examining your genital area, he/she will usually take a sample from any visible sores. You will also be asked to give a urine sample.
We hope to have a home test, which will tell you if you are infected with the herpes simplex virus type 2, available on this site in Autumn 2003. We will keep you updated when we have more information.
What treatment is available for genital herpes?
Medicines are available from your doctor to relieve the discomfort of the skin blisters, these may be taken as tablets or applied to the affected area. This medication will stop the virus reproducing and promote earlier healing. Treatment is not essential, as genital herpes will clear up by itself. There are a number of things you can do yourself to relieve symptoms, they include the following:
- Take pain-killers like paracetemol if you have any pain.
- Gently bathe the infected area in salt water, twice a day.
- Avoid tight clothing, so air can get to the sores.
- Drink plenty of fluids, to help neutralize the urine making passing water less painful.
- Avoid sunbathing and sunbeds, especially if you have sores on your mouth.
- If you have a fever, stay in bed and get plenty of rest.
There is no long-term cure at present for genital herpes, as the virus will remain in the body, though it may not show any symptoms. The frequency and severity of recurrent episodes varies greatly, while some people may only have one or 2 recurrences in a life time, others may have several outbreaks a year. If you suffer frequent or severe recurrences of herpes, it may be advisable to take medication daily to prevent symptoms developing.
How can I avoid further attacks of genital herpes?
Some people never get another outbreak. If you do get another outbreak the symptoms are usually milder. There may be no obvious cause as to why you have got a repeat infection. However, you can develop a repeat infection due to the following:
- Stress and feeling run down.
- Damage to the genital area by friction during sex.
- Wearing tight clothing.
- Direct sunlight or sunlamp rays.
Always use a condom for sex, including oral sex to avoid catching herpes and other sexually transmitted diseases.
What are the effects of genital herpes?
Having herpes does not affect a woman’s ability to have children. If you suffer a herpes infection during the first few months of pregnancy, there is a small risk that you could have a miscarriage. If the infection develops at the end of the pregnancy, it may cause the baby to be born early. It is very rare for babies to become infected with herpes. Herpes does not causecervical cancer.