Overview – What is it?
Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection that is mostly caused by the herpes simplex virus. It can cause symptoms such as itching, sores and ulcers.
It is diagnosed through viral culture, blood test and polymerase chain reaction.
Antiviral medications are used in the treatment of genital herpes to prevent outbreaks, even though this disease has no cure.
Genital herpes can be prevented by using protection during sex, taking antiviral medicines to reduce the risk of outbreaks and to reduce the risk of infecting your partner.
Causes – What causes it?
Genital herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus; type 2 being the major cause. Herpes simplex virus type 1 can also cause genital herpes. Type one however, mostly causes cold sores or fever blisters.
This disease is transmitted through sexual contact (whether vaginal, anal or oral sex) with an infected person even if the person has no signs or symptoms.
Symptoms – What do you feel?
A person can be infected with genital herpes and not be aware they are, as symptoms may take a while to appear and may not be noticeable even when they appear. Some of the symptoms are:
- Itching or pain
- Small red bumps or tiny white blisters
You may experience flu like symptoms during the initial outbreak such as:
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Muscle aches
- Nodes in the groin
Both men and women may experience sores on the mouth, anus, urethra, buttocks and thighs.
Men can experience sores on the penis or scrotum while women can experience symptoms on the vagina, external genitals or cervix.
When the disease recurs, one may experience:
- Pain in the lower back, legs and buttocks
- Itching, tingling and a burning sensation on the area through which the virus entered the body
Diagnosis – How do you diagnose it?
Genital herpes is diagnosed through tests like:
- Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test: This test involves testing your DNA from a blood sample, or tissue taken from a sore or spinal fluid. The DNA is then tested to check for the presence of herpes simplex virus (HSV) and its type.
- Viral culture test: A cell sample is taken from a sore and checked for the presence of HSV under a microscope.
- Blood test: It is done to analyse a blood sample for the presence of HSV antibodies to detect a past herpes infection.
Treatment – How do you treat it?
Genital herpes has no cure. The treatment that uses antiviral medications is therefore, used to:
- Heal the sores sooner during an initial outbreak
- Reduce the frequency of reoccurrence
- Lessen its severity and duration in recurrent outbreaks
- Minimize the risk of transmitting the virus to another person
Some of the antiviral drugs used are Valacyclovir and Acyclovir.
Prevention – How do you prevent it?
You can protect yourself or your loved one from getting genital herpes by:
- Using protection during sex or abstaining from sexual intercourse
- Getting regular tests for STDs together with your partner
- Limiting your number of sexual partners
- Avoiding sex while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs as that can impair your judgement
- Avoiding the sharing of sex toys