Genital herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus, of which there are two strands – HSV-1 and HSV-2. As well as triggering symptoms in the genital region, the virus can also affect skin on the face, causing cold sores, which usually develop around the mouth and nose. It can also lead to whitlows, which appear on the hands.
How is it passed on?
The herpes simplex virus is extremely contagious. It is passed on through skin-to-skin contact, especially during vaginal, anal or oral sex. The virus is usually found on the moist skin lining the genitals, according to the NHS. It can also enter the body through small cracks in the skin, the BBC adds.
Becoming infected through other objects, however, is very unlikely due to the virus’ short life span outside the body. So it is safe to share towels, cups and cuttlery with someone carrying HSV.
What are the symptoms?
Genital herpes sometimes takes a while to make itself known. The sufferer can go weeks, months or even years without symptoms while being infected. Otherwise, symptoms usually begin to appear 4 to 7 days after infection. According to the BBC, these can include:
- Flu-like symptoms such as swollen glands, fever, headache and tiredness
- Stinging and/or itching in the genital area
- Painful red blisters around the external genital area, rectum, buttocks and thighs, which burst and leave sores
- Pain when urine comes into contact with sores
- Could also lead to depression and anxiety
If a person suspects they have genital herpes, they are usually screened by their doctor, who can provide a diagnosis. The first outbreak is usually treated with antiviral tablets. Self-help treatments that may also help relieve symptoms include:
- Wearing loose clothes
- Drinking plenty of water
- Applying ice packs to the sores for an hour or so
- Applying local anaesthetic cream
- Taking warm, salted baths
The virus stays in the body even after the symptoms have passed. It lies dormant until it is reactivated, but until that point, the carrier is not infectious.
It is not exactly known what causes the virus to reactivate, but it is said that outbreaks tend to become less severe and less frequent as time passes. The NHS outlines several possible triggers, which may bring on another bout:
- Friction during sexual intercourse
- Stress and illness
- Drinking excess amounts of alcohol
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Images: Wikimedia Commons