What's in this article?
- 1 Genital herpes in women facts
- 2 What is Genital herpes?
- 3 Two Herpes Simplex viruses that can cause infection
- 4 How is it spread?
- 5 What Are the Symptoms of Genital Herpes?
- 6 Where do symptoms appear?
- 7 Differences in Symptoms Location
- 8 How often can you get herpes outbreaks?
- 9 First Outbreak
- 10 How does genital herpes affect pregnancy?
- 11 How will my doctor know if I have herpes?
- 12 Can herpes be cured?
- 13 What happens if I don’t get treated?
Genital herpes in women facts
- Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV).
- Herpes simplex virus causes genital herpes by entering the skin or mucous membranes through microscopic breaks in the skin and mucous membranes.
- There are 2 types of HSV:
- Herpes simples virus-1, that typically causes cold sores, and
- Herpes simples virus-2, that typically causes genital herpes.
- Either herpes simplex virus type can cause sores on the genital areas.
- Genital herpes is transmitted by any type of sexual contact with the genital area.
- When symptoms are present, they may include
- painful blisters and/or ulcers in the genital area,
- itching, and
- burning or tingling sensations in the skin.
- With the initial (first) genital herpes infection some individuals may develop symptoms of
- body aches and
- swollen lymph nodes
- Genital herpes symptoms come and go over the person’s lifetime due to reactivations of the virus.
- Diagnosis is usually done by recognizing the skin changes in the genital area but viral cultures, genetic amplification of herpes simplex virus genome material and other tests may be done.
- There is no cure for genital herpes, but there are medications to make living with genital herpes more manageable.
- Antiviral medications are used to reduce the severity and frequency of genital herpes.
- Genital herpes symptoms usually develop about four days after exposure to an infected person.
- Some natural and home remedies may help relieve and soothe symptoms severity, but provide no cure.
- Oral antiviral medications may be used in pregnancy. Check with your OB/GYN before taking any medications if you are pregnant.
- The prognosis of genital herpes is variable: there is no cure, and the recurrent outbreaks may vary in frequency and severity.
- Genital herpes prevention is difficult. Condoms may prevent the disease spread during sex, but not in areas of skin not covered by a condom or during oral to genital contact.
What is Genital herpes?
Genital herpes is a common infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). It causes painful blisters on the genitals and the surrounding areas.
As genital herpes can be passed to others through intimate sexual contact, it’s often referred to as a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
HSV can affect any mucous membrane (moist lining), such as those found in the mouth (cold sores).
Genital herpes is a chronic (long-term) condition. The virus remains in your body and can become active again. The average rate of recurrence is four to five times in the first two years after being infected. However, over time, it tends to become active less frequently and each outbreak becomes less severe.
Two Herpes Simplex viruses that can cause infection
- One causes most genital herpes.
- The other virus can also cause genital herpes but more often causes blisters of the mouth and lips (e.g., cold sores or fever blisters).
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that about 1 out of 6 people ages 14 to 49 have genital herpes.
Women are more easily infected with herpes than men.
How is it spread?
The herpes virus is spread by skin-to-skin contact with a person who has the herpes virus:
- Most often, from herpes sores or blisters
- Less often, from normal looking skin where the virus first entered the body
- During vaginal, anal, or oral sexual contact, or skin-to-skin contact. This may happen even without visible sores.
- The herpes virus enters the body through the:
- Lining of the mouth
- Regular skin that has small cracks or cuts
People with a weak immune system can get a herpes infection more easily. A weak immune system is caused by some diseases (e.g., cancer, HIV/AIDS) and by some medicines used to treat serious diseases.
People who don’t know they have herpes can still spread the virus to others.
What Are the Symptoms of Genital Herpes?
Even though you can still pass the infection, you may never notice that you have symptoms from an HSV infection. On the other hand, you might notice symptoms within a few days to a couple of weeks after the initial contact. Or, you might not have an initial outbreak of symptoms until months or even years after becoming infected.
When symptoms occur soon after a person is infected, they tend to be severe. They may start as small blisters that eventually break open and produce raw, painful sores that scab and heal over within a few weeks. The blisters and sores may be accompanied by flu-like symptoms with fever and swollen lymph nodes.
Where do symptoms appear?
When a person has genital herpes, the virus lies dormant (sleeps) in the bundle of nerves at the base of the spine. When the virus reactivates (wakes up), it travels nerve paths to the surface of the skin, sometimes causing an outbreak.
The nerves in the genitals, upper thighs and buttocks are connected; therefore, a person can experience outbreaks in any of these areas. Such areas include the vagina or vulva, penis, scrotum or testicles, buttocks or anus, or thighs.
Genital herpes, regardless of whether it is HSV-1 or HSV-2, does not cause symptoms on the mouth or face. For more on oral-facial herpes, see the Oral Herpes section.
Differences in Symptoms Location
Sores appear where the infection entered your body. You can spread the infection by touching a sore and then rubbing or scratching another area of your body, including your eyes.
Men and women can develop sores on the:
Women can also develop sores in or on the:
- Vaginal area
- External genitals
Men can also develop sores in or on the:
- Urethra, the channel inside the penis leading to the bladder
How often can you get herpes outbreaks?
The frequency with which outbreaks recur depends on your immune system. Why some people have only one outbreak per year while others encounter over 6 outbreaks is not known. However, a healthy immune system tends to keep the virus at bay.
You should avoid consuming large quantities of alcohol as well as stress and eat a healthy diet. In some cases, sunburn has been found to be a herpes trigger. You should try to find out what triggers the virus’s activity in your case, so that you can prevent future episodes. The number of outbreaks and the symptoms they cause depend on the type of herpes virus you are infected with. People with herpes simplex 1 (HSV1 or herpes type 1) – which causes most herpes outbreaks above the waist – causes much less attacks and less severe symptoms than herpes simplex 2 (HSV2), which typically causes genital herpes symptoms.
The first herpes outbreak often occurs within the 2 weeks after contracting the virus from an infected person. The first signs may include:
- Itching, tingling, or burning feeling in the vaginal or anal area
- Flu-like symptoms, including fever
- Swollen glands
- Pain in the legs, buttocks, or vaginal area
- A change in vaginal discharge
- Painful or difficult urination
- A feeling of pressure in the area below the stomach
After a few days, painful sores, blisters, or ulcers may develop where the virus entered the body. These areas include:
- The vaginal or anal area
- The mouth
- Inside the vagina
- On the cervix
- In the urinary tract
- On the buttocks or thighs
- On other parts of your body where the virus has entered
Sometimes the first outbreak will not occur until months or years after infection.
How does genital herpes affect pregnancy?
- If you get genital herpes during pregnancy, you can spread genital herpes to your baby during delivery.
- If you had genital herpes before pregnancy, your baby is still at risk of getting herpes, but the risk is lower.
Most women with genital herpes have healthy babies. But babies who get herpes from their mother have neonatal herpes. Neonatal herpes is a serious condition that can cause problems in a newborn baby such as brain damage, eye problems, or even death.
How will my doctor know if I have herpes?
Often times, your healthcare provider can diagnose genital herpes by simply looking at your symptoms. Providers can also take a sample from the sore(s) and test it. Have an honest and open talk with your health care provider and ask whether you should be tested for herpes or other STDs.
Can herpes be cured?
There is no cure for herpes. However, there are medicines that can prevent or shorten outbreaks. One of these herpes medicines can be taken daily, and makes it less likely that you will pass the infection on to your sex partner(s).
What happens if I don’t get treated?
Genital herpes can cause painful genital sores and can be severe in people with suppressed immune systems. If you touch your sores or the fluids from the sores, you may transfer herpes to another part of your body, such as your eyes. Do not touch the sores or fluids to avoid spreading herpes to another part of your body. If you touch the sores or fluids, immediately wash your hands thoroughly to help avoid spreading your infection.
Some people who get genital herpes have concerns about how it will impact their overall health, sex life, and relationships. It is best for you to talk to a health care provider about those concerns, but it also is important to recognize that while herpes is not curable, it can be managed. Since a genital herpes diagnosis may affect how you will feel about current or future sexual relationships, it is important to understand how to talk to sexual partners about STDs.