Genital Herpes

What is genital herpes?

Genital herpes is a common infection caused by a virus. The virus is called the herpes simplex virus, or HSV. It causes painful blisters that break open and form sores in the genital area.

There are 2 types of HSV, type 1 and type 2. HSV-1 usually infects the lips and mouth. HSV-2 usually infects the genital area. However, you can have infections by either virus in any of these places.

How does it occur?

You can become infected with the virus by contact with broken blisters or sores on the genitals, mouth, or rectal area of an infected person. The infection can be passed from person to person during sex. You may spread it from one part of your body to another if the virus gets on your hands.

Once you are infected, the virus stays in your body for the rest of your life. Most of the time the virus is inactive, which means it is staying in certain cells in the body and not causing symptoms. However, the virus may become active and cause sores again. The sores may come back often. Outbreaks of sores may occur with physical stress, for example, if you wear tight clothing, have sex without enough lubrication, or have another illness. Emotional stress or menstruation may also cause an outbreak. Most people with herpes have recurrent infections.

Herpes is very contagious when you have sores. The virus may also spread to others even if you have no symptoms, or for up to 3 months after the sores have healed.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms usually occur within 2 weeks after the virus first enters your body. They may include:

  • painful sores (blisters) on the genitals (for example, on a man’s penis or the area around a woman’s vagina), thighs, or buttocks  

  • vaginal discharge  

  • pain when you urinate or have sex  

  • trouble urinating  

  • itching in the genital or anal area that starts suddenly  

  • general discomfort, such as tiredness and muscle aches  

  • fever (usually only with the first outbreak of blisters)  

  • tender, enlarged lymph nodes in the groin  

The sores appear first as tiny clear blisters. Usually they occur in groups of several blisters, but sometimes there may be just a single blister. The blisters usually quickly lose their thin tops. Then they look like small (1/8 inch to 1/4 inch wide), pink or red shallow sores. The blisters may be painful and oozing. They may become covered with a yellowish dried crust.

The symptoms of herpes are usually most severe during the first outbreak.

Some people infected with herpes have no symptoms.

How is it diagnosed?

Your Reddy Urgent Care healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and examine you. Cells or liquid from one of the sores will be tested in the lab for the virus. Blood tests may be done to see if you have had a previous herpes infection.

How is it treated?

Genital herpes cannot be cured. The virus will stay in your body. However, your Reddy Urgent Care healthcare provider may prescribe antiviral medicine such as acyclovir, famciclovir, or valacyclovir to relieve your symptoms more quickly. Even though you are taking the medicine, the infection will still be very contagious as long as you have sores, but the medicine will shorten the amount of time you are contagious. If you are pregnant, discuss the use of these medicines with your provider.

Pain medicine such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help relieve pain and fever. Sitting in a bathtub of warm water 2 or 3 times a day may also help soothe the pain.

Herpes during pregnancy:
A herpes infection for the first time during the first 3 months of pregnancy might cause a miscarriage or problems with the baby. If you get a herpes infection for the first time in the second trimester of pregnancy, it might cause premature labor and delivery. If you have an active herpes infection when you deliver your baby, you could pass the disease to the baby.

If you are pregnant and have had herpes, tell your provider so steps can be taken to avoid infecting the baby. Antiviral medicine is a safe medical treatment for infected pregnant women. It can help prevent an active infection that could be passed to your child during birth.

Antiviral medicine does not decrease the risk of passing the infection to the baby if you have sores at the time of delivery. If you have an active herpes infection when you go into labor, your provider may suggest a cesarean delivery (C-section) to avoid infecting the baby.

Breast-feeding is safe as long as there are no sores on or around the breast.

How long will the effects last?

The sores usually start to heal after about 5 days. They generally disappear in 1 to 3 weeks. Sometimes they may last for as long as 6 weeks, especially if you also have a bacterial or yeast infection of the vagina.

The sores rarely leave scars.

About half of herpes-infected people have repeat outbreaks of sores. These recurrences tend to be milder than the first bout of herpes and the sores heal more quickly