Genital herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV) type 1 or type 2 and can be transmitted thru vaginal, anal and oral sex. It attacks any mucous membrane (moist lining) like those found in the mouth, eyes, anal or vaginal areas. HSV1 is the culprit for blisters and sores found in the mouth and lips area while HSV2 causes sores and lesions in the genital areas.
HSV1 is spread by contact with bodily fluids (and is not limited to sexual contact) so even children may contract it. The virus prefers to “nest” in trigeminal ganglion, the collection of nerve cells that are located just behind the ear, which explains why skin eruptions mainly occur in the facial region such as sores found near the mouth and lips, or the so-called “fever blisters.”
HSV2, on the other hand, can only be spread through sexual contact and can be contracted by teenagers, young adults and adults. HSV2 nests in the sacral ganglion, which is the central base of nerves that is situated at the base of the spine, which is why infection generally affects the genital area.
Who are at risk – Being infected with the HSV does not necessarily mean it will develop to genital herpes, but there are a few factors that may increase the risk, including :
- Being female
- Being born to a mother with active genital herpes during pregnancy or delivery
- Having a weak immune system due to medications or such conditions as HIV/AIDS
- Having unprotected sex, including vaginal, oral, or anal sex, with a partner who has had one or more other sexual partners
- Having multiple sexual partners
- History of another sexually transmitted disease
The HSV virus can remain latent for several years, 10 years maximum, and not show any symptoms. Some people do not even know they are infected, until such time that an outbreak occurs. However, when outbreaks do occur, symptoms may include headache, fever, irritability, fatigue and inflammation of the lymph nodes on the first 6 days after exposure to the virus. Physical manifestations like sores and the blisters will appear in the affected areas (such as genitals, vagina, cervix, thighs, buttocks or anus) which will start to dry up 3-4 weeks after exposure to the virus. Genital herpes is a recurring disease, with an average 4-5 times in two years after the onset of infection.
Treatment and Management
Genital herpes is not curable, and because it is a long-term condition, a treatment plan for genital herpes should be managed. Medications, such as antivirals or antiretrovirals, will heal the lesions and blisters quickly and can reduce the amount of time with which the disease is contagious. Topical anaesthetic drugs can be applied to HSV1 infections. The flu-like manifestations can be relieved by anti-fever and anti-inflammatory drugs.
To prevent the spread of the virus, patients infected are recommended not to touch the infected areas during outbreaks. Affected areas should also be kept dry and clean. Ensure that hands should be thoroughly washed and disinfected after the use of the bathroom. Pregnant women who are infected should opt for caesarian delivery to avoid passing the virus on to her newly-born child.
Of course, the most effective way to avoid the spread of genital herpes is to abstain from unprotected from sex. Being in a monogamous sexual relationship with a partner who has been tested and is known to be uninfected will also do a lot of difference.
Aside from the psychological distress, if unmanaged, genital herpes can lead to serious complications such as severe, recurrent outbreaks with the risk of the infection spreading into the other organs through the bloodstream. It can also increase the risk of contracting other STDs such as HIV/AIDS.
Newborn babies born to infected mother through vaginal childbirth are prone to life- threatening conditions, such as encephalitis and meningitis, because their immune system is not yet fully developed.