Herpes: What is Genital Herpes?

Herpes is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that is extremely contagious. It is characterised by outbreaks in episodes of small painful lumps on the lips or abdomen. These outbreaks are caused by the herpes virus, which is transmitted through direct or indirect contact between skin, mucous membranes and unsafe sex.

There are two types of this virus:

• Herpes Simplex Type 1
• Herpes Simplex Type 2

Herpes type 1 infection usually affects the area around the mouth. It is believed that about 70-90 percent of the population is currently infected with this virus. It usually gives outbreaks of painful blisters around the mouth. This form of herpes is considered milder and less severe than herpes type 2.

Less than 10 percent of the population is infected with herpes type 2. Herpes type 2 usually spreads in the area around the genitals. Herpes type 2 is also called genital herpes.

This form of herpes has more frequent and more radical outbreaks than herpes type 1 and can be very difficult to treat in some cases. It is possible for the infected person to prevent (once infected) outbreaks of genital herpes with a special ointment (Valtrex®).

It is always advisable to have yourself tested for genital herpes if you suspect that you might be infected. If it appears that you have been infected with herpes type 2, you can start treatment with the special prophylactic ointment Valtrex® as soon as possible (after consulting a doctor) to prevent the outbreak of herpes.

Herpes in History

The word herpes is derived from from the Greek language. It means to creep. The virus is one of the most common infections affecting humanity. In Roman times it was so prevalent that kissing was banned for a time. Shakespeare also mentioned the disease in in Romeo and Juliet.

A large percentage of the adult population carry this virus. When a person becomes infected, the virus remains dormant within the individual for life, occasionally becoming active again.

How Do You Catch Genital Herpes?

The disease is highly contagious and you can catch herpes when your skin comes into contact with the sores or blisters of an infected person. The are of your body that was in contact with the disease is then vulnerable. For example if you receive oral sex from a person with a coldsore around their mouth, you have a high chance of contracting genital herpes.

The virus can be passed on in these ways:

  • Kissing
  • Oral sex
  • Vaginal sex
  • Anal sex
  • Sharing sex toys
  • Hand transfer through masturbation

The virus is highly infectious when blisters and sores can be seen. When not, the risk of you passing the infection on or developing the infection between outbreaks is much lower. However, on some occasions the virus can be passed on when blisters or sores are not present.

How Can I Avoid Getting Genital Herpes?

Here are some simple steps to lower your chance of picking up genital herpes.

  • If your partner has coldsores around their mouth, avoid kissing them
  • If your partner has moth or genital sores, then you should not have oral sex.
  • Genital or anal sex with a partner that has genital sore should be avoided. Even when using a condom.
  • Never use saliva to moisten contact lenses, if your mouth has sores.
  • Always vigorously wash your hands with soap before and after touching the affected area.

What Are the Symptoms and Sign of Genital Herpes?

There are no visible symptoms of herpes so people catch it are often initially unaware that they have contracted the disease. After 4 or 5 days, symptoms can develop. However this is not always the case and sometimes the disease can remain dormant in the body for months or years after first exposure.

  • When a person picks up herpes for the very first time, known as a primary infection, the symptoms of the disease are often more severe than what they will be if the disease reoccurs. These symptoms can include:
  • Itching, particularly around the penis, vagina or anus, A blister may appear, this is a normal early sign.
  • Small fluid-filled blisters will develop in the genital or anal region. These blisters eventually burst after 1 or 2 days leaving red sores on the body.
  • Women, particularly, may have pain when passing urine through the infected area.
  • Symptoms that are like flue. Including fever, backache and headache.
  • Swollen glands in the area of the groin.

How Is Genital Herpes Diagnosed?

A visit to your local sexual health clinic (GUM clinic) is advised if you are worried that you have genital herpes. You can visit your local GP, but they will most probably refer you to the GUM clinic anyway.

An initial consultation will involve the clinic’s doctor asking about your symptoms and sexual partners.An examination of the genital are will take place and and sample from any visible sores will be taken in order to confirm the diagnosis. During your visit, you may well be offered tests for other STI’s. You will normally have to give a urine sample and will need to provide a sample of blood.

A Home Test For Herpes

Zoom Health currently offer two home tests that can diagnose herpes. If you are too shy or embarrassed to go to the clinic, you may choose to carry out one of the tests. However, we do advise anybody who does get a positive result from one of our tests to follow it up with a visit to a professional who can confirm the result and provide appropriate treatment.

We offer two types of herpes test kit. For diagnosis of Type 1 Herpes, we offer an Oral Herpes Test Kit. For Type 2 Herpes, the Genital Herpes Test Kit is also available.

How Can I Stop Herpes From Coming Back?

Many people only get a herpes outbreak once in their life.  If another outbreak does happen, the symptoms are often milder. There may be no clear reason as to why you have got a repeat infection. However, you can develop a repeat infection because of the following:

  • Feeling run down and stressed.
  • Damage to the genital area caused by surgery or from rough sex.
  • Wearing very tight clothing.
  • Suffering from a weakened immune system.
  • Exposure to direct sunlight or rays from a sun lamp.
  • Always use a condom when having sex in order to avoid catching herpes and other sexually transmitted diseases.

What Are the Effects of Genital Herpes?

For women, the risk of having genital herpes is most alarming when they are pregnant. The child may contract serious health problems if the mother has genital herpes. Thankfully this is quite rare though. When herpes is passed from mother to baby at childbirth it is known as neonatal herpes.

If you are diagnosed herpes for the first time in the final weeks of pregnancy, or if you have an outbreak at the time of labour, your doctor might advise you to have a caesarean section. Cervical cancer is not caused by herpes.

Photo by Scott Broome on Unsplash

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