Genital herpes affects the skin or mucous membranes of the genitals. The virus is spread from one person to another during sexual contact.
There are two kinds of HSV:
►HSV-1 usually affects the mouth and lips and causes cold sores or fever blisters. But it can spread from the mouth to the genitals during oral sex.
►HSV-2 most often causes genital herpes. HSV-2 can be spread through secretions (fluids) from the mouth or genitals.
You may become infected with herpes if your skin, vagina, penis, or mouth comes into contact with someone who already has herpes.You are most likely to get herpes if you touch the skin of someone who has herpes sores, blisters, or a rash. But the virus can still be spread even when no sores or other symptoms are present. In some cases, you do not know you are infected.Genital HSV-2 infections are more common in women than men.
Many people with genital herpes never have sores. Or they have very mild symptoms that go unnoticed or are mistaken for insect bites or another skin condition.If signs and symptoms do occur during the first outbreak, they can be severe. This first outbreak usually happens within 2 days to 2 weeks of being infected.
General symptoms may include:
►General sick feeling (malaise)
►Muscle aches in the lower back, buttocks, thighs, or knees
►Swollen and tender lymph nodes in the groin during an outbreak
Genital symptoms include small, painful blisters filled with clear or straw-colored fluid. They are usually found:
►In women, blisters may be on the outer vaginal lips (labia), vagina, cervix, around the anus, and on the thighs or buttocks.
►In men, blisters may be on the penis, scrotum, around the anus, on the thighs or buttocks.
►In both genders, blisters may be on the tongue, mouth, eyes, gums, lips, fingers, and other parts of the body.
►Before the blisters appear, there may be tingling, burning, itching, or pain at the site where the blisters will appear.
►When the blisters break, they leave shallow ulcers that are very painful. These ulcers crust over and heal in 7 to 14 days or more.
Other symptoms may include:
►Women may have vaginal discharge or may be unable to empty the bladder and need a urinary catheter
►A second outbreak can appear weeks or months later. It is usually less severe and goes away sooner than the first outbreak. Over time, the number of outbreaks may decrease.
Exams and Tests:
Tests can be done on skin sores or blisters to diagnose herpes. These tests are most often done when someone has a first outbreak and when a pregnant women develops genital herpes symptoms. Tests include:
►Culture of fluid from a blister or open sore may be positive for herpes simplex virus. It is most useful during the first outbreak.
►Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) done on fluid from a blister is the most accurate test to tell whether the herpes virus is present in the blister.
►Blood tests that check for antibody level to the herpes virus can identify whether a person has been infected with the herpes virus, even between outbreaks. Tests may be positive even if the person never had an outbreak.
Genital herpes cannot be cured. Antiviral medicines may be prescribed:
►They help relieve pain and discomfort during an outbreak by healing the sores more quickly. They seem to work better during a first attack than in later outbreaks.
►For repeat outbreaks, the medicine should be taken as soon as tingling, burning, or itching begins, or as soon as blisters appear.
►Persons who have many outbreaks may take these medicines daily over a period of time. This helps prevent outbreaks or shorten their length. It can also reduce the chance of giving herpes to someone else.
►Pregnant women may be treated for herpes during the last month of pregnancy to reduce the chance of having an outbreak at the time of delivery. If there is an outbreak around the time of delivery, a C-section will be recommended to reduce the chance of infecting the baby.
Possible side effects from herpes medicines include:
►Nausea and vomiting
Follow your health care provider's advice on how to care for your herpes symptoms at home.