Genital herpes, also known as Herpes Simplex type 2 (HSV-2) is a common sexually transmitted disease (STD), not dangerous in itself, but accompanied by very unpleasant and persistent symptoms. Unlike STDs caused by yeast or bacterial infections, genital herpes is caused by a virus. Most of the people are familiar with the less infectious variation of this virus – Herpes Simplex type 1 (HSV-1) which is responsible for a common disease known as cold sores, experienced by many at least once. As opposed to HSV-1 which usually manifests through blisters around the mouth, genital herpes is, as the name implies, localized to the area around genitals and anus.
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What is Genital Herpes and How Can I Get Infected?
HSV-1 commonly known as cold sores manifests around the mouth and is not classified as a sexually transmitted disease, but nevertheless, it’s also transmitted by oral contacts, like kissing. However, it is important to note that even though HSV-1 isn’t an STD in the usual sense, oral sex with someone who is infected can lead to the blisters spreading to the genital area.
On the other hand, Herpes virus of type 2 is transmitted through contact between mucous membranes of the reproductive system, so it’s transmitted solely through sexual intercourse, vaginal, oral or anal. Once infected, the person cannot efficiently remove the virus from the organism, although the blisters and other noticeable symptoms don’t always appear. It is important to note that the mouth herpes, HPV-1 can also be transmitted to the genital area via oral sex.
What are Herpes Simplex Type 2 Symptoms?
What makes HPV-2 particularly contagious is the fact that many carriers aren’t aware of the fact that they’re infected. The common symptoms include irritated skin, sores and blisters in the genital area – similar to many other skin conditions, so the person infected might not pay attention to the changes. What’s more, it is often possible to be infected by genital hepatitis, but without manifestation of the symptoms which further complicates the identification of the condition. However, when they do appear, HPV-2 symptoms are relatively specific and can be noticed if you know what you’re looking for. The most common ones include:
- Blisters and soar in the genital area and around the anus
- Bursting of blisters which get replaced by painful wounds
- Swelling, itching and irritation around the genitals
- Pain and irritation when urinating
- Headache, weakness and other symptoms of common cold
Both men and women are susceptible to herpes viral infection; however, the symptoms are more easily detectable in men. For women, the blisters usually appear both in and around the vagina, but it’s not rare for them to manifest only on the inside which makes them very hard to detect without a visit to the gynaecologist. However, in case of a complication of the condition, a number of blisters and wounds can appear inside the vagina leading to very painful urination, a tell-tale sign of genital herpes, but the one that can be noticed only once the condition has already progressed.
Genital Herpes Transmission
The HPV-2 virus is transmitted through sexual intercourse with a carrier, regardless of whether the intercourse is vaginal, anal or oral. As mentioned, typical symptoms such as blisters and soars can be completely absent in the carrier without reducing contagiousness and this is why many people are unaware of the fact that they have been infected by genital herpes. However, studies have shown that chances for contagion are somewhat less when blisters and wounds are absent.
It is also possible to get genital herpes through oral sex with a partner who has HVS-1, commonly called cold sore, and manifested through small blisters on the lips or in the corner of the mouth. However, in this case, the blisters have to be developed around the mouth in order for the virus to spread to the genitals through oral sex.
Am I at Risk of Getting Genital Herpes?
The bottom line is that anyone who is sexually active is at risk of getting the HPV-2 infection since it is a relatively common and very contagious disease. However, there are certain factors that significantly increase the risk of infection. These factors include, but are not limited to:
- Changing multiple sex partners
- Having unprotected sex
- Previous viral infections
- Weak or temporarily weakened immune system
Due to last point, it’s very important to pay attention to your general health and avoid any risky situations if you have an ongoing viral infection or if you have any reason to suspect your immune system has been compromised (other kinds of infection such as bacterial or yeast infections, autoimmune diseases and treatments for serious conditions which might weaken the body’s defences).
Herpes – True or False?
As with many diseases that caught the public’s attention, which is very often the case with STDs, there are numerous myths, assumptions and straight-out wrong claims regarding genital herpes. Here, we will take a look at and debunk a number of them.
If you have herpes, you can never have sex again
Wrong – many people have a perfectly normal sex life despite this rather common sexually transmitted disease. But, if the symptoms do manifest, sex probably won’t sound like a good idea due to painful wounds which can develop in the genital area after the blisters burst. However, the blister outbreaks can be mitigated rather quickly using the correct treatment and in addition, there are multiple medicines available on the market that can mitigate the symptoms and reduce the unpleasantness and pain. But, in order to stop the infection from spreading, be sure to always use a condom – the reduction of visible symptoms does not mean the withdrawal of infection!
You Can Get Herpes via Toilet Seat
This is another widespread, yet wrong myth related to herpes. It is impossible to get STDs without sexual intercourse since the method of transmission relies on the contact between mucous membranes. What’s more, the herpes virus cannot live outside of the host, that is, outside of human body which makes it impossible to spread via toilet seats, shared towels, water in a swimming pool or any other indirect contact.
Herpes is Painful
Having genital herpes is not painful in itself. In fact, many people who are infected with the HSV-1 or HSV-2 aren’t even aware of the condition due to the absence of symptoms. However, what is painful is the most well-known symptom of herpes, the blisters that burst into painful and unpleasant wounds. Located in the genital area and around the anus, very sensitive parts of the body, these soars can cause extreme discomfort. On a brighter side, several medicines can easily and quickly mitigate these symptoms and for many people with a healthy immune system, the herpes virus can remain dormant over the course of their whole lives.
How Can I Treat Herpes?
Despite the recent advances in developing herpes vaccine, as of writing this article, there is no known medicine that can completely remove the virus from the body. This is why it’s important to tell future sex partners about your condition and take precautions like using a condom even if there are no visible symptoms. With some luck, taking care of your general health will be enough to strengthen your immune system and prevent the virus from ever manifesting through blisters and soars.
Even without treatment, the wounds usually disappear over the course of three weeks in the case of the first outbreak and one week for secondary and repeated outbreaks. But, in order to avoid the discomfort associated with the symptoms, it is highly advisable to take proper medication in order to mitigate the symptoms or, even better, stop them before the outbreak.
How Can I Protect Myself from Genital Herpes?
As with all other STDs, the only 100% certain way to avoid getting herpes is to abstain from sexual intercourse, vaginal, oral and anal. While giving up on your sex life cannot be considered an effective prevention, there are other actions you can take in order to reduce the risk such as:
- Using a condom every time you have sexual intercourse
- Making sure that your sex partner has been tested
- Paying attention to tell-tale signs of herpes (blisters and soars around the mouth or genitals)