Genital Herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus, types 1 (HSV-1) and 2 (HSV-2). Both these strains can cause genital herpes, but HSV-2 is usually responsible. It’s the same virus responsible for cold sores and can be transmitted from the mouth to the genitals through oral sex. The prevalence rate for those carrying genital herpes in the US and UK is approximately one in four to one in five. Only a proportion of these will be symptomatic at any one time, but once you’ve got it, it’s with you for life.
Within around two to twenty days after exposure to the virus, the skin becomes red, tingly and sensitive. Blisters form on or around the genitals which then rupture to form ulcers. Flu-like symptoms may also be present, including headaches, fever, muscle ache and swollen lymph-glands. The symptoms may last for several weeks – although in some, the symptoms may be so mild that they go unnoticed.
It is when the sores have healed that the active attack is over. The virus retreats into the nervous system, where it lies dormant, waiting until the body becomes vulnerable again, being tired or run-down. The first attack is usually the worst.
Prevention and treatments
While there is no cure for herpes, some anti-viral drugs are effective in lessening the impact of an outbreak. Beyond this, you might try bathing the infected area in salty water or antiseptics and taking painkillers. You might find it helpful to wear loose-fitting underclothes. Body lotions tend to do no good and may irritate.
In order to reduce the chances of an outbreak, you’ll need to keep yourself generally healthy and avoid too much stress and high living. It is when you are not in best health that the virus strikes.
To avoid transmission, don’t have sex during an outbreak. Even condoms will only offer protection if they fully cover the infected area. It is also possible to transmit the virus during a dormant period, but this is less common.
If you catch herpes from a partner, it is possible he or she has not been unfaithful and didn’t know he or she was carrying the virus, as it can lie dormant, without the initial outbreak, for long periods.
Risks to children
If you have an attack of herpes when it is time to give birth, the baby will usually be delivered by C-section, as herpes can cause brain damage and other serious consequences in children.