Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection featured by formation of painful blisters on the genitalia and surrounding areas. This infection is extremely widespread and affects millions of people worldwide.
Causes of Genital Herpes
Genital herpes is caused by Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and type 2 (HSV-2). Herpes simplex virus affects mucus membranes of the mouth, eyes, anal or vaginal areas. HSV-2 is the leading cause of genital herpes. HSV-1 most commonly causes infection of the mouth and lips known as cold sores or fever blisters but may cause genital herpes as well.
Herpes simplex virus is highly contagious and easily transmitted by skin to skin contact with an infected person. Genital herpes is spread from person to person during sexual contact. The virus can be spread even when an infected person does not have any symptoms.
Symptoms of Genital Herpes
Genital herpes is a chronic condition that causes recurrent episodes of symptoms. The first outbreak (primary infection) usually occurs within a few weeks after contracting the infection and is the most severe. Recurrent outbreaks commonly cause milder symptoms and last shorter than the first episode. Over time, frequency of repeated outbreaks decreases.
After being infected, the virus stays in the body forever but it is usually inactive most of the time. Majority of infected individuals are unaware of their condition as they do not recognize symptoms or do not have symptoms at all. However, an outbreak of genital herpes can be caused by triggers such as stress, fatigue, sunlight, physical illness or genital irritation.
Primary infection is typically the most painful and may last for two to four weeks. It causes symptoms such as fever, headache, malaise, muscle aches and enlarged lymph nodes in the groin. Genital herpes also causes pain when urinating and vaginal discharge.
The main sign of genital herpes is the appearance of painful blisters or ulcers on the genitals. In men these lesions are commonly found on the penis, scrotum or anal area. In women, genital herpes sores appear on the outer vaginal lips, in the vagina, cervix or around the anus.
Treatment for Genital Herpes
Treatment for genital herpes aims to relieve symptoms when they occur. Antiviral medications like aciclovir, famciclovir and valaciclovir are commonly used in treatment of genital herpes. Aciclovir helps to stop the virus from multiplying and reduce the severity of symptoms. It is usually taken for five days.
Repeated infections are generally mild and usually do not require treatment. People with frequent recurrence of genital herpes may use antiviral medications everyday.