Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease (STD). It causes red rashes, blisters, sores, and soreness around the genitals and penis.
Many people may not experience any symptoms, or only mild ones. But in some people, genital herpes can lead to severe problems including abdominal pain, fever, chills, and pain during urination.
The virus can also lead to more severe problems, including sores in the mouth and on the lips.
Men and women can both get genital herpes. Most people who have genital herpes are infected with the type 2 herpes simplex virus (HSV-2). HSV-2 spreads from person to person through sexual contact.
In this article, we take a look at the symptoms of genital herpes, what a person can do to reduce their chances of contracting it, and the potential risk factors.
Genital herpes can cause sores in the genital area. Genital herpes can cause sores in the genital area.
The most common symptoms of genital herpes are:
- sores in the genital area
- pain in the genitals or testicles
- a blistering rash on or near the genitals
- swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, or groin
Symptoms appear as a red rash that appears on or near the genitals or around the groin. They usually appear as blisters that heal within days, but they can appear in small pieces or scabs.
Other symptoms include:
- a high temperature (fever)
- night sweats
If someone has had genital herpes in the past and continues to have the virus, they may be contagious. They can be contagious for 1–2 weeks after the sore starts to heal.
Some people may not have any symptoms, or only mild ones. In these cases, a doctor may not be able to diagnose them as having herpes.
If a person has a sore on or near their genitals but does not have a fever or pain, they are still contagious. A person can still spread the virus without symptoms for up to 1 week, although it may be before they develop symptoms.
Someone can get herpes without knowing that they have it, or they may have symptoms for many years without developing the disease.
When someone is diagnosed with genital herpes, a doctor will ask them about their previous symptoms. If a person has had symptoms before, they may tell the doctor about them.
A doctor may also ask questions to help identify whether the person has herpes. For example, they may ask them to name the last time they had a sore on or near their genitals, and to list any other symptoms that they have had in the past.
A doctor may also test the sore for the virus, which requires an injection of a virus that will test antibodies to the virus in the person’s blood. A positive result will confirm that a person has herpes.
What causes genital herpes?
Genital herpes is usually caused by an infection with the herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2).
The virus can spread from person to person by skin-to-skin contact. This includes touching genitals or other areas of skin on the body.
Other ways that people can spread the virus include:
- touching areas of the mouth or eyes with unwashed hands
- having unprotected sexual intercourse
- sharing towels or toilet seats with someone who is infected
- contaminated objects, such as toothbrushes or razor blades
- sleeping in the same bed with someone who has the virus
There are several ways that HSV-2 is passed on. One of these is through contact with:
- your own eyes
- a vagina or anus
- underwear or other clothing
- a baby’s mouth or genitals
- a diaper
- stool or urine
- using other person’s saliva or semen
What to do if you have herpes
Symptoms are unlikely to show up for 1–2 weeks after the sore starts to heal. Symptoms are unlikely to show up for 1–2 weeks after the sore starts to heal.
While many people with herpes have symptoms for a while before they are diagnosed, symptoms may begin as early as 6 months before a person has a visible sore.
While a person may have very few symptoms, a person should always use gloves when caring for someone who has the disease. It is also important to use clean hands for everything else, especially during intimate contact.
One way that a person can protect themselves from HSV-2 is by avoiding having sex without a condom during outbreaks of herpes.
What to do if someone has herpes
If someone has herpes and has the herpes sore in the open area, they may wish to avoid using a tampon during their period, which can help to reduce the risk of the sore getting infected.
Other people can try to reduce the risk of catching herpes from their partners by following these steps:
- using condoms at all times
- having oral sex with a partner who has had herpes for at least 6 months
- keeping sex toys separate from the sex toys of other people
- trying to avoid sharing sex toys and other objects
- avoiding having sex with children or anyone who has been vaccinated against HSV-2
Most people who get herpes develop outbreaks only a few times. People with recurrent outbreaks tend to be more at risk of complications.
However, people can take steps to reduce their risk of developing outbreaks, including:
- using a condom consistently during sex to reduce the risk of STIs
- avoiding sex during outbreaks, if possible
- avoiding sharing utensils or objects, including condoms
- waiting 6–8 weeks before having sex
- taking antiviral medication if herpes is left untreated
- making it more comfortable for herpes to heal by keeping the area clean
Genital herpes is an infection with a virus. There is no cure for the disease, but it can be treated to reduce the risk of symptoms.
For people with recurrent outbreaks, the antiviral medication antivirals may help to reduce their symptoms and symptoms in general.
It is vital that a person regularly examines their genital area for sores to avoid passing herpes on.
When a person has genital herpes, avoiding transmission is the best way to reduce the risk of a flare-up.
There are three major drugs commonly used to treat genital herpes symptoms: azithromycin (Zithromax), acyclovir (Valtrex) and famciclovir (Famvir). One of these drugs, Valtrex, is the only FDA-approved oral drug for treatment of genital herpes, and it has been clinically proven to be 96 percent effective in treating herpes symptoms. Both Valtrex and acyclovir work by destroying the viral proteins that lead to outbreaks.
The other drugs have a different purpose, and can also be used for treatment of herpes outbreaks, but because they’re not as well-tolerated, doctors sometimes prescribe these drugs for chronic outbreaks only.
For people who aren’t able to take medicine to treat the herpes virus, medical experts say oral antivirals can be effective for herpes symptoms in the first two weeks of an outbreak. According to the CDC, they can be taken for six to 12 months if the virus isn’t getting better.
Most doctors would probably prescribe these drugs, but they may not be covered by insurance or they might not have been prescribed by a doctor in the first place, which could complicate the decision. If you can’t afford to take one of these oral drugs, you might want to consider counseling from a mental health professional to find other methods of controlling the disease.
Controlling sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
Genital herpes can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, like during sex or an injection. The virus is very well-adapted to infecting the skin, which makes it easy for it to be spread during sex. But unlike the herpes virus, chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis are extremely sensitive to the use of latex condoms. If an infection is contracted during sex, it can be difficult to control without one.
Many women, particularly those in high-risk groups, don’t even know they have an STI until they have symptoms. According to one study, nearly half of Americans with an STI also have herpes.
STD testing can help women and their partners know whether they have an STI, and it may be especially helpful in preventing herpes outbreaks. While most STIs have a high degree of genetic replication and are unlikely to be completely cured by a simple prescription for medicine, they can be managed with the use of over-the-counter antibiotics like azithromycin or Valtrex.
For some STIs, getting tested doesn’t provide a diagnosis because an individual isn’t experiencing symptoms. If the test comes back negative, you’ll just need to take the prescribed antibiotic and go on with your life. For others, an STD could be affecting your health. For example, women who test positive for chlamydia may have pain during sex or may have trouble getting pregnant because of inflammation.
Side Effects and Follow-up Care for Genital Herpes
Herpes sores usually affect women during her menstrual cycle. Also, there could be some psychological effects like depression, for example, due to constant emotional discomfort.
This is because the body does not produce sufficient levels of serotonin and cortisol. This could make you feel less and less happy, depending on the state of your body. There could be a reduction in energy levels and even sleep disorders.
Moreover, medications can cause weight gain. Be sure to consult your doctor before you start taking any new medicines.