Genital herpes is most commonly a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). You can contract this infection through sexual contact with an infected partner or at birth through the birth canal of an infected individual and even from acts such as kissing an infected individual if you have a break in the integrity of your skin or your immune system is down. There are two types of herpes, HSV type 1 (oral) and HSV type 2 (genital). Both can be transmitted to any body part depending on the nature of activity. While there’s no cure for herpes, antiviral medications can ease symptoms, reduce frequency of outbreaks, and reduce the risk of infecting others.
How Is Herpes Spread?
Pregnant women who have herpes and are not on antiviral medications can transmit the infection to their babies during vaginal delivery if active lesions are present. If you suspect you might have genital herpes while pregnant, let your doctor know. They can help you with precautions to prevent the virus from being transmitted to your baby. Having HSV does not mean you automatically need a c-section but it does mean you need to be aware of your body and let your provider know of any suspected lesions.
After the initial infection, herpes may remain dormant in your body and can reactivate several times a year depending on different factors such as stress level and overall health.
Lowering Your Risk of Infection
The virus is more easily transmitted from men to women than from women to men, making women more vulnerable to being infected. Having multiple sexual partners also increases your risk of contracting this infection. To eliminate your risk of infection, abstain from sexual activity, or limit sexual contact to a single mutually monogamous partner to reduce risk. If you’re currently in a relationship, ensure you and your partner have been recently tested for this STI. Additionally, the proper use of latex condoms can reduce transmission of herpes.
Herpes Signs and Symptoms
Generally, herpes manifests as an outbreak of fluid-filled vesicle clusters between 2 and 30 days after infection. Initial symptoms include tingling and itching at the site of compromise. Fluid-filled vesicle clusters at at near the mouth, lips, face, genital and anywhere that had contact with an infected area.
The following symptoms may appear over time:
* Fever, headaches, and body aches
* Swollen lymph nodes as they fight infection and inflammation caused by the infection
* Crusts over the sores within a week of the initial outbreak
In babies born with herpes, symptoms include face, body, and genital ulcers. These babies can develop severe complications including blindness, brain damage, and death.
Remember, if you touch your sores or the fluids from the sores, you can transfer herpes to other parts of your body, like your eyes. If you’ve contracted the infection, avoid touching your sores, but if you do, immediately wash your hands thoroughly to avoid spreading the infection.
Left untreated, HSV type 2 can cause painful genital sores and can be severe in people with suppressed immune systems. Long-term complications include:
* Infection of newborns during birth if lack of antiviral therapy and present outbreak during vaginal delivery
* Marked genital swelling that can result in the closing of the urethra disabling urine from passing through. This is really painful and is usually resolved by inserting a catheter to drain the bladder.
* Genital sores increase the risk of transmitting or contracting AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections due to the break in the integrity of your skin
* Genital herpes can lead to inflammation of the lining of the rectum or rectal inflammation. This is common in transmissions among men who have sex with men
* In rare instances, HSV infection leads to inflammation of the membranes and cerebrospinal fluid surrounding your brain and spinal cord resulting in meningitis
When To Test for Herpes?
If you suspect you’ve been exposed to the herpes infection, make an appointment with your healthcare provider to get tested. There is a blood test that could tell you if you carry HSV antibodies in your blood but it is inconclusive in terms of knowing when the virus was contracted and from whom. The only definitive test for diagnosing herpes is through a culture of an active lesion. You may be asymptomatic for a while, so if you suspect a recent sexual partner was infected, it’s time for a blood test. Additionally, if the symptoms listed above start manifesting in you or your sexual partner, schedule an appointment for a culture.
If you suspect you have herpes, go to your clinic. Your clinician can typically make a presumptive diagnosis of herpes by a visual examination of the sores or a definitive diagnosis by a culture from a lesion. Here are the 3 types of tests normally performed:
* Viral culture tests require a fluid sample from one of the sores to test for the herpes virus
* Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests copy your DNA from a sample of your blood, fluid from a sore, or spinal fluid. The sample is then tested for the presence of herpes simplex
* A blood test can diagnose a herpes infection even before you experience an outbreak
Unfortunately, there’s no cure for herpes, but treatment can reduce the outbreaks and symptoms. Antiviral medicine can reduce outbreak frequency, shorten outbreak cycles and when taken with anti-inflammatories can reduce pain. But make sure you consult your healthcare provider for testing and medicine as soon as you notice symptoms.
Need A Free Herpes Test?
You might have a few follow up questions, so visit The Source to get a free consultation and herpes test—most of our locations offer herpes testing. You can bring your partner to get tested as well. Click the button below to book a 30-minute appointment!