Genital herpes is a disease caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV), of which there are two types. Type 1 (HSV-1) usually causes oral herpes, an infection of the lips and mouth. Symptoms are commonly known as cold sores or fever blisters. In the past, HSV-1 was not known to causes genital herpes, but that is changing, especially among people who begin having sex at a young age. Still, in most cases, genital herpes is caused by the second type of herpes virus (HSV-2).
2. Causes Genital Herpes
Genital herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types: HSV-1 and HSV-2. Most genital herpes infections are caused by HSV-2. HSV-1 is the usual cause of what most people call “fever blisters” in and around the mouth and can be transmitted from person to person through kissing. Less often, HSV-1 can cause genital herpes infections through oral sexual contact. The genital sores caused by either virus look the same.
- Genital herpes is spread by direct contact with an infected person. Sexual intercourse and oral sex are the most common methods of spreading genital herpes. Any type of skin-to-skin contact, however, is capable of spreading herpes.
- Although anyone can spread the disease, transmission from an infected male to a female partner is more common than spread from an infected female to a male partner.
Symptoms Of Genital Herpes
Any of the following symptoms of a genital HSV infection can occur in a man or a woman:
- Cracked, raw, or red areas around your genitals without pain, itching, or tingling
- Itching or tingling around your genitals or your anal region
- Small blisters that break open and cause painful sores. These may be on or around your genitals (penis or vagina) or on your buttocks, thighs, or rectal area. More rarely, blisters may occur inside the urethra — the tube urine passes through on its way out of your body.
- Pain from urine passing over the sores — this is especially a problem in women.
- Flu-like symptoms, including fever, swollen lymph nodes, and fatigue
Genital herpes is not the only condition that can produce these symptoms. Sometimes, HSV is mistaken for vaginal yeast infections, bacterial infections, or bladder infections. The only way to know whether they are the result of HSV or another condition is to be checked by a health care provider.
Common Treatments For Herpes
There is no cure for herpes, but prompt diagnosis and treatment can help reduce or delay the onset of serious complications, improve the quality of life, and minimize the spread of the disease to others. You can best manage genital herpes by consistently following your treatment plan, which generally includes medications and other treatments.
Herpes can be controlled to various degrees with oral antiviral medications. These drugs do not cure genital herpes but can help speed the healing of blisters and reduce the amount of time in which the disease is most contagious. These medications are most effective if taken before sores appear. Medications may include:
- Acyclovir (Zovirax), available as a pill, for genital and possibly oral herpes, and a cream, for both genital and oral herpes
- Docosanol (Abreva) cream for oral herpes
- Famciclovir (Famvir), a pill for genital and possibly oral herpes
- Penciclovir cream (Denavir) for oral herpes
- Valacyclovir (Valtrex), a pill for genital and possibly oral herpes
In addition, other measures that help treat and prevent herpes include:
- Applying a sun block or lip balm containing zinc oxide to protect lips when outdoors
- Applying cold or warm packs to affected areas to reduce pain
- Avoiding touching affected areas during outbreaks
- For pregnant women, having a Cesarean section delivery, especially if you have active genital herpes
- Keeping affected areas clean and dry
- Not sharing items exposed to the mouth, such as drinking glasses, silverware, toothbrushes, or mouth guards
- Washing hands thoroughly with soap and water before eating and after using the bathroom or touching affected areas