Genito-Urinary Medicine

Genital Herpes

Introduction to Genital Herpes

Genital herpes is a common infection of the genitalia caused by herpes simplex virus.

Written by Doctify Team 27/04/2020

What is Genital Herpes?

Genital herpes is a common infection of the genitalia caused by herpes simplex virus. It is characterised by painful blisters on the genitalia and surrounding area. It is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and so is passed through intimate sexual contact. HSV is a virus which stays in your body after infection and so the virus can become active at anytime. It is often most painful the first few times it’s activated after infection and recurrence becomes less frequent and less severe with each outbreak. Those between 20-24 years are most commonly infected.

What causes Genital Herpes?

Genital herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus type one and two. It is an STI so is transmitted by close contact of genitalia. You can also contract the virus by having oral sex with someone who has cold sores. The virus spreads when it comes into contact with the moist skin that lines your genitals, mouth and anus. The virus is not normally passed on through objects and doesn’t survive long on other areas of skin. A person doesn’t need to have the symptoms of sores to be contagious. You can transmit HSV at any time but transmission is most likely to occur when the person has sores or blisters.

What are the symptoms of Genital Herpes?

Most people do not experience symptoms soon after initial infection and so are unaware that they have been infected. Symptoms include: small blisters on the genitalia, rectum, thighs, bottom and cervix of women, vaginal discharge in women, pain when you pass urine, general feeling of being unwell, pains and flu-like symptoms.

How is Genital Herpes treated?

Once you have herpes, you have it for life. However, the symptoms can be treated. For first time (primary) infection, you will be prescribed an antiviral acyclovir. This prevents HSV multiplying but does not get rid of the virus. Side effects include headaches and feeling nauseous.

If recurrent outbreak symptoms are not too severe you can keep the affected area clean by washing it with plain or salt water to stop blisters becoming infected. Apply an ice pack or petroleum jelly to reduce the pain when passing urine. Avoid wearing tight clothes around the affected area and drink lots of water as it is less painful to pass dilute urine. If symptoms are severe, you may also be prescribed acyclovir.

For people who have more than 6 outbreaks of genital herpes in a year, they might take acyclovir daily to prevent further outbreaks from happening. This type of treatment is called suppressive treatment but this does not stop the disease being transmitted to a sexual partner. The GP might also consider testing for HIV as recurrent infections might be a sign of a weakened immune system.

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