Genital Herpes is a Sexually Transmitted Viral Infection caused by Herpes Simplex Virus type 1 (HSV 1) or type 2 (HSV 2). Genital herpes is quite common with about 1/3 rd population of India being infected with HSV 1. It is generally characterized by sores on or around genitals or mouth, but Herpes often shows no symptoms. There is no cure for this STI but with proper checks its spread and effects can be minimized.
Oral Herpes and Genital Herpes
Oral herpes is caused by HSV 1 through non sexual contact. If at all, symptoms may appear around the mouth in form of sores.
The oral herpes can however cause genital herpes when the infected part of the mouth comes in contact with genitals during oral sex.
How is Genital Herpes spread?
Genital herpes can be spread through sexual contact with an infected person in following ways:
- Anal, Vaginal or Oral Sex
- Skin to skin touch with an infected area
- Coming in contact with Saliva of a person infected with oral herpes; or genital secretions of a person infected with genital herpes
It can also be spread neonatally i.e. from a pregnant mother to her child during pregnancy or childbirth.
You can get Genital herpes even if your infected partner does not show any visible symptoms.
However, you will not get infected from sharing towels, toilet seats, bedding, and swimming pool with an infected person. Also, herpes is not spread through casual contact like hugging, handshake etc with an infected person.
What are the symptoms of Genital Herpes?
- Most individuals infected with herpes generally do not show symptoms, or may show mild symptoms that can be mistaken for other skin conditions
- For those who do show symptoms, small blisters may appear on or around genitals, rectum or mouth. These blisters generally appear 4 days after contracting infection. Further, they may take anywhere between 2- 4 weeks to heal and disappear. However, disappearance of first blisters does not imply disinfection. The first outbreak is also associated with symptoms like fever, body or headaches or swollen lymph nodes.
- Herpes is known for subsequent recurrence of blisters. However, the subsequent occurrences are shorter and less severe than the first occurrence. Person may experience localized genital pain, or tingling or shooting pains in the legs, hips or buttocks, hours to days before the eruption of herpetic lesions
What are the complications arising out of Genital Herpes?
- In some persons with low immunity, Herpes can cause severe and persistent ulcers for example in those infected with HIV
- It can also cause rare but serious complication called aseptic meningitis which can affect the functioning of the brain
- Potentially fatal neo natal herpes can occur in infant born to an infected mother
- Genital Herpes also increases the risk of acquiring HIV two to four fold when exposed to the HIV
How is Genital Herpes diagnosed?
- Physical examination by the doctor
- Viral culture i.e. examining the tissue sample or scraps from the sore in a laboratory
- Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test is used to copy your DNA from a sample of your blood, tissue from a sore or spinal fluid. The DNA can then be tested to establish the presence of HSV and determine which type of HSV you have.
- Blood test analyzes a sample of your blood for presence of HSV antibodies to detect a herpes infection
However, none of these tests can tell when or from whom the infection was contracted.
Who should get tested for Herpes?
The following persons should get diagnosed for Herpes
- Persons with above mentioned symptoms
- Persons with a clinical diagnosis of genital herpes but no laboratory confirmation
- Those who report having a partner with genital herpes
- Persons with HIV infection
- MSM at increased risk for HIV acquisition
- Pregnant women
- Those who have sex with multiple partners, especially if they have unprotected sex
How can Herpes be treated?
Herpes is a non curable infection. However, treatment with prescription antiviral medications may:
- Help sores heal sooner during an initial outbreak
- Lessen the severity and duration of symptoms in recurrent outbreaks
- Reduce the frequency of recurrence
- Minimize the chance of transmitting the herpes virus to another person
How can herpes be prevented?
The only sure way of preventing Herpes is to abstain from sexual contact or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested for STDs and is known to be uninfected.
The risk of acquiring herpes can however be minimized by:
- Use of condoms and dental dams
- Avoiding sex when there is occurence of herpes lesions until the blisters heal completely
- Medication can also help in lowering the risk of transmission of virus from an infected person