Genital herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1 and HSV-2). It is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) spread by sexual intercourse (vaginal, oral, and anal), and affects the vagina, penis, cervix, thighs, and buttocks. HSV-1 normally causes infection around the mouth (cold sores, or fever blisters), while HSV-2 normally causes genital infection. Both types are seen in both locations, however, and the appearance, course, and symptoms of each are the same. The virus infects a person through direct contact, and remains in the central nervous system for life. Outbreaks may occur periodically, and often occur in response to stress, sunburn, menstruation, genital trauma (injury) or with immune suppression, as in AIDS or persons receiving chemotherapy. There is treatment for genital herpes, but no cure.
Symptoms may include:
Itching, tingling, and burning, followed by painful blisters which erode into shallow ulcers
Vaginal discharge, pain with urination, lymph gland enlargement
With the first outbreak you may have fever and flu-like symptoms before the blisters appear.
What your doctor can do:
Diagnose genital herpes by asking about your symptoms, doing a physical exam, and possibly laboratory blood tests.
Prescribe anti-herpes medications (Zovirax, Valtrex, and Famvir) to speed healing and possibly reduce the duration of repeated outbreaks.
If you have frequent or very severe episodes, you may be prescribed suppressive therapy (taking medicine daily, not just during outbreak) which may reduce the frequency and severity of outbreaks.
What you can do:
Take over-the-counter medication like acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) for minor discomfort.
Identify triggers that may bring on an outbreak. These may include fatigue and other stressors that can be avoided with lifestyle changes
Take medications as prescribed. Inform your doctor of problem side effects
Wear cotton or cotton-crotch underwear
Try warm salt-water baths for comfort
Prevent infection by:
DO NOT have sexual relations with any partner during an outbreak. You can transmit the disease from the moment you develop itching or burning around the genitals until all of the blisters are gone.
Use condoms between outbreaks (especially if outbreaks are frequent), and avoid oral sex when cold sores are present.
Pregnant women should inform their obstetrician if they have ever had herpes or any genital blisters or sores. The herpes virus can infect the baby, cause serious disease, and even death.
Infected women should also have a pap smear every year to check for any complications.
All sexual partners should also be tested and treated.
For further information, contact your state Health Department or the American Social Health Association’s National Herpes Resource Center at 1-800-230-6039.
What you can expect:
Initial outbreaks are generally the worst, and last the longest.
Possible complications include secondary bacterial infection of the blisters or sores, eye involvement, widespread disease and death in persons with impaired immune systems, and life-threatening widespread infections in newborns of infected mothers.
Contact your doctor if you have eye pain or discharge, if you are pregnant and have genital herpes symptoms, or if you experience side effects from the medication.