This post was written by Margaret Ojeniyi and edited by Lani Sodunke.
Just like oral herpes, genital herpes is a highly contagious sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused mainly by herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). The initial outbreak usually lasts for two weeks or more, where the virus lays dormant in the body and can cause a recurring sore.
Once the virus reactivates itself, it travels to the skin’s surface, causing blisters. Though genital herpes is primarily caused by HSV-2, HSV-1 can also cause it if the blister is around your genitals. Reading further, you’ll find some symptoms of genital herpes that would make it easy for you to tell if you have one:
What are the Symptoms of Genital Herpes?
If you have genital herpes caused by HSV-2, these are the most common symptoms you would have:
- Burning sensation when you pee, especially when your urine touches the sore.
- Painful and uncomfortable genitals.
- Itchy genitalia
- Red bumps that can break open.
- You might also have flu symptoms like fever, headache, body ache, chills, and fatigue.
- Swollen lymph nodes around the neck, abdomen, and groin.
NB: Babies who can get infected through vaginal delivery are at the risk of going blind and breaking out with sores over their bodies. Also, these symptoms can re-emerge, so you might feel a tingling sensation before they do.
Factors that Trigger the Recurrence of Genital Herpes
After the initial outbreak of genital herpes, you might have a recurrent outbreak anytime. These are the factors that can trigger the recurrent outbreaks:
- Injury or illness
- Excessive exposure to extreme weather such as sun or cold.
- Weak immune system
- Using immunosuppressive medication like steroid
Risk factors of Genital Herpes
Some factors that increase the risk of contracting genital herpes include:
- Having sexual intercourse with an infected individual
- Having multiple sexual partners
- Kissing an infected person can increase your risk of contracting herpes
- Not protecting yourself during sexual intercourse
- Sharing sex toys or infected items
How to diagnose Genital Herpes
Your healthcare provider can diagnose you by simply conducting a physical examination or by looking at the sores.
Since the sores might look similar to other bumps, your doctor can also diagnose you based on your symptoms. However, if you’re without symptoms, your blood sample can be tested for herpes antibodies. Doctor can also ask you about your sexual history, as this would help determine your risk of testing positive for other STIs like syphilis.
Treatment for Genital Herpes
Genital herpes is treated with antiviral drugs to reduce the pain and make it less likely to infect your sexual partner. These are the same drugs that are used to treat herpes labialis. They include:
- Valtrex – 1 gram, twice times daily for a week or 10 days
- Zovirax – 400 mg, three times daily for 7 to 10 days
- Famvir – 250 mg, three times daily for 7 to 10 days
You can continue the dosage if the herpes does not heal after 10 days. But if you want to lower the likelihood of infecting your partner, you can take daily antiviral drugs. A topical analgesic such as lidocaine jelly can also help control the pain from the sore.
2. Pain Reliever
You can take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to relieve the pain caused by the genital sore. Other remedies and preventive measures that can boost the immune system and ease your symptoms during an outbreak include:
- Ensure you get adequate sleep and nutritious diet
- Always wear loose-fitted clothing. As a lady, you should avoid wearing tight panties; rather, wear cotton panties.
- You can apply an ice pack wrapped in a cloth to your genital.
- To ease the pain while peeing, pour water over your genital.
- Apply Aloe-Vera gel over the sores. It has an anti-inflammatory effect.
- Reduce your stress.
- Always keep your genitals dry. Moist sores takes longer to heal.
Things to avoid if you have Genital Herpes
- Avoid sexual intercourse if you or your partner has an outbreak in the genital area.
- Avoid oral and unprotected sex. You can use condoms or dental dams during sexual intercourse. Although herpes can still spread, the sores are mostly on the thighs. Nonetheless, condoms reduce the risk of transmission.
- Avoid touching your sores every time.
Complications of Genital Herpes
People who have genital herpes are at risk of having certain health issues, such as:
- Meningo Encephalitis – This is an HSV infection that can cause the brain to inflate. It can also be transmitted from an infected mother to her baby during childbirth.
- Urinary Retention: Genital herpes causes inflamed ulcers or sores around the urethra. Urinating might become problematic if the sores block the urethra. A catheter might need to be inserted into the bladder when this happens.
- Proctitis: This is a condition common among people who have anal sex. It typically leads to the inflammation of the rectum.
- Herpes Keratitis: Herpes simplex can cause eyes infection such as blurred vision, tearing, and light sensitivity. If left untreated, it can damage the eyes.
- Skin Infection: Herpes can cause skin lesions also known as herpes gladiatorum to appear on the skin. It is a viral infection that can spread on contact and it is commonly found among athletes.
- Sexually Transmitted Infections: Individuals who have genital herpes have higher chances of contracting or transmitting other sexually transmitted diseases, such as syphilis, HIV, gonorrhea, etc.
Frequently asked questions on genital herpes
1. What do I do if I test positive for genital herpes?
It is normal to feel embarrassed or ashamed at first. Having herpes should not affect your everyday activities. There are people with herpes that still have normal relationships.
Anyone who is sexually active or has ever been kissed can get infected with herpes. Herpes usually does not cause serious health complications, and the outbreak lessens over time. Although the virus would still be in your body, it does not mean you would have a sore every time.
The best thing you can do if you have genital herpes is to follow your doctor’s advice and prescription. Also, ensure you inform your sexual partner(s) about your status so they can also get tested.
2. Can I have sex if my partner or I have herpes?
Genital herpes can harm your sex life if you infect your partner. Although it is not curable, you can use daily antiviral medication to suppress the virus. This would lessen the risk of spreading the virus to your partner.
3. How can I manage genital herpes while pregnant?
Genital herpes won’t stop you from getting pregnant, but you can infect your baby if you have an active herpes blister during delivery.
You should go for regular prenatal visits if you are pregnant and have genital herpes. You can go to any community health center or get a doctor to visit you at home. Your doctor would prescribe for you the right antiviral medicine late in your pregnancy, and this would lessen the symptoms of herpes during delivery.
4. If I have genital herpes, does that mean I have STI?
Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease. So, if you have genital herpes, you have STI, and you are at risk of having other STIs.
5. Should I see a doctor?
The symptoms of recurring genital herpes usually go away after a few days. However, you should call your doctor if you are experiencing the following:
- Dyspareunia-painful intercourse
- Dysuria- painful urination
- Unpleasant vaginal or penile smell
- Genital or anal blisters.
Millions of people in Nigeria live with the herpes simplex virus that causes genital herpes and a large percent do not know they have it until they show symptoms. If you have genital herpes, you shouldn’t be ashamed or scared. Ensure you follow the treatment advice given to you by your doctor. Additionally, practice safe sex and ensure you take your medication to curb outbreaks. If you have any questions or concerns, you can discuss them with any of our expert healthcare providers.