Genital herpes is a viral infection, which is often classed as a sexually transmitted infection because it is spread through intimate contact. Genital herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus, which is also responsible for cold sores, small red blisters, which develop on the lips.
How common is genital herpes?
In the UK it is estimated that more than 30,000 people are diagnosed with genital herpes each year; this figure relates to primary infections. As the herpes simplex virus remains in the body, the condition is long-term and the number of people who have genital herpes is much higher.
How is genital herpes spread?
There are two different strains of herpes simplex virus, which are known as type 1 and type 2. Both strains of the virus are extremely contagious and this is why genital herpes can be spread so easily. Unlike other sexually transmitted infections, you do not have to have sexual intercourse in order to pass on genital herpes. This infection can be spread through skin to skin contact and it is even possible to contract the HSV infection through contact with a different area of the body where HSV is present in the skin. For example, it is possible to spread the infection by having oral sex if you have a cold sore.
It is very unlikely that you will develop genital herpes as a result of sharing towels, bed linen or cutlery, but it is possible for the infection to be spread through sharing sex toys with somebody who has HSV type 1 or 2.
What are the symptoms of genital herpes?
The most obvious symptom of genital herpes is the appearance of sores in the genital area; these sores tend to be red and painful and they pop to reveal open wounds. They can also be found on the thighs and around the buttocks and rectum.
Additional symptoms include:
• high temperature
• generally feeling under the weather
• aches and pains
• pain when you pass urine
• unusual vaginal discharge and blisters on the cervix (in females)
What are the implications of genital herpes?
Genital herpes is a chronic infection, but it does not stop you from living a long life and enjoying good health. Any sexually transmitted infection will have implications for your personal life and you will need to take extra care when engaging in sexual contact or intercourse in the future if you are diagnosed with genital herpes. You should avoid skin to skin contact if you have symptoms and wait until the blisters have completely cleared until you have sex with a partner again.
Genital herpes: Will I be able to have children?
Genital herpes should not affect your ability to conceive because it does not reduce fertility like some other infections, such as Chlamydia and gonorrhoea. However, there is a higher risk of miscarriage in cases where a primary infection occurs during pregnancy.
Genital herpes and pregnancy
It is possible for genital herpes to be passed from a mother to a baby; however, if you already have the infection before you become pregnant, the risk of this occurring is very low. If you have a recurrent infection during pregnancy, you may be advised to take antiviral medication.
If you develop genital herpes for the first time during your pregnancy, the risk of passing it onto your baby is higher and precautions will be taken. If you have an infection during the first half of your pregnancy, you may be advised to take antiviral medication (acyclovir) because there is an elevated risk of miscarriage. If the infection occurs during the final trimester, you may be advised to have a Caesarean section to reduce the risk of the infection being passed to the baby during childbirth.
Treating genital herpes
There is no cure for genital herpes because the virus remains in the body. There are however, treatments which are able to reduce the severity of symptoms. In cases where an individual has symptoms for the first time, antiviral medication is prescribed; this usually involves taking a course of acyclovir. If you are showing the signs and symptoms of genital herpes, you can get checked-out discreetly at this specialist London herpes clinic.
In the case of recurrent infections, medication may be recommended, but some people who have mild symptoms do not need treatment.
There are also some things you can do at home to ease discomfort if you have an outbreak of symptoms, including:
• staying hydrated (this helps to dilute your urine)
• wearing light, loose clothing
• applying petroleum jelly to the affected area of skin
• avoiding triggers (some people suffer outbreaks when they are stressed or tired, for example)