Genital herpes is a common sexually transmitted infection that affects both men and women. Features of genital herpes include pain, itching and sores in your genital area. But many infected people have no signs or symptoms of genital herpes. An infected person can be contagious, even if he or she has no visible sores.
Genital herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Sexual contact is the primary way that the virus spreads. After the initial infection, the virus lies dormant in your body and can reactivate several times a year.
There's no cure for genital herpes, but medications can ease symptoms and reduce the risk of infecting others. Condoms also can help prevent transmission of the virus.
The majority of people who've been infected with HSV never know they have the disease, because they have no signs or symptoms. The signs and symptoms of HSV can be so mild that they go unnoticed.
When present, the initial symptom of genital herpes usually is pain or itching, beginning within a few weeks after exposure to an infected sexual partner. After several days, small red bumps or tiny white blisters may appear. They then rupture, becoming ulcers that ooze or bleed. Eventually, scabs form and the ulcers heal.
In women, sores can erupt in the vaginal area, external genitals, buttocks, anus or cervix. In men, sores can appear on the penis, scrotum, buttocks, anus or thighs or inside the urethra, the channel inside the penis leading to the bladder.
While you have ulcers, it may be painful to urinate. You may also experience pain and tenderness in your genital area until the infection clears. During an initial outbreak, you may have flu-like signs and symptoms, such as headache, muscle aches and fever, as well as swollen lymph nodes in your groin.
Recurrences are common
Various factors may trigger outbreaks, including:
When to see a doctor
Sores associated with genital herpes can be small red bumps, blisters or open sores. Scabs eventually form and the sores heal, but they tend to recur. ...
Two types of herpes simplex virus infections can cause genital herpes:
Because the virus dies quickly outside of the body, it's nearly impossible to get the infection through contact with toilets, towels or other objects used by an infected person.
Your risk of becoming infected with genital herpes may be increased if you:
Complications associated with genital herpes may include:
Preparing for your appointment
If you think you have a sexually transmitted illness, such as genital herpes, make an appointment to see your family doctor or gynecologist.
What you can do
Some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Your doctor usually can diagnose genital herpes based on a physical exam and the results of certain laboratory tests:
Treatments and drugs
There's no cure for genital herpes. Treatment with prescription antiviral medications may:
Antiviral medications used for genital herpes include:
Your doctor may recommend that you take the medicine only when you're experiencing symptoms of an outbreak. Or your doctor may recommend that you take a medicine daily, even when you're not experiencing any signs of an outbreak, to minimize your chances of recurrent outbreaks.
People who are experiencing severe complications may need to be hospitalized, so they can receive antiviral medication intravenously.
Coping and support
Finding out that you have genital herpes may be quite distressing. Among the tumult of emotions, you might feel shock, shame or anger. You may be suspicious or resentful of your partner if you think he or she "gave" you the disease. Or you might be fearful of rejection by your current partner or future partners.
What you're feeling is normal and perfectly valid. But you can cope with your diagnosis of genital herpes in a healthy and effective way. Here's how:
The suggestions for preventing genital herpes are the same as those for preventing other sexually transmitted infections. The key is to avoid being infected with HSV, which is highly contagious while lesions are present. The best way to prevent infection is to abstain from sexual activity or to limit sexual contact to only one person who is infection-free. Short of that, you can:
Last Updated: 2011-05-21
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