What are the Signs of Genital Herpes?
Genital herpes is an infectious sexually transmitted disease that is caused by herpes simplex virus. It causes painful open ulcers in the genital area in both men and women. It is a highly contagious disease and can be spread easily with unsafe sexual practices.
Every year 1 million Americans are newly affected with genital herpes. At present 450 million people in the US are affected with the virus. Most affected individuals fail to recognize herpes because they are not aware of the clinical signs and symptoms while approximately 80% are asymptomatic.
Herpes Simplex viruses (HSV) can cause a variety of infections that involve the skin, central nervous system and rarely, organs in the body. Infections caused by the virus may be due to one of the strains --- HSV-1 or HSV-2. Exposure to HSV through the mucosal surface such as the genitals allows entry and transmission of the virus through the genital sores or abraded skin. There is no cure for genital herpes; medications are only given to treat the outbreaks and to reduce the severity of symptoms.
Signs and Symptoms
Individuals with exposure through skin-to-skin contact with an infected person with genital herpes may manifest symptoms of the disease after 7 days. Individuals who are exposed for the first time may initially present fever, headache, muscle pains and body weakness. There is also genital pain, itching, difficulty urination and vaginal or urethral discharge may be present. The inguinal lymph nodes may be tender and swollen bilaterally.
Genital sores are characteristic of genital herpes infection. The lesions may be present in different stages of development, vesicles may co exist with ulcerative lesions and pustules. Genital herpes usually appear as blisters or ulcers on the genitals and exist in clusters or crops. The diameter of the lesions is about 1-3mm and start as blisters before bursting into ulcers. The lesions may be painless to tender while some herpes infections are characterized by painful blisters. In about 80% of women the cervix and urethra may be involved especially during the first-episode of symptomatic infection.
Individuals who had previous infections with HSV-1 have less severe symptoms and faster healing as compared with those with primary genital herpes infection. Genital herpes caused by HSV-1 and HSV-2 have the same clinical course and manifestations.
HSV can also extend the infection from the genitals to the urethra. A mucoid discharge and pain on urination may signal urinary tract infection caused by herpes. It can also cause pelvic inflammation in women such as salpingitis and infection of the prostate in male or prostitis.
The first herpes outbreak is usually the most painful and takes longer than the other succeeding outbreaks since the symptoms may last for 2 to 4 weeks. The symptoms are less severe in later outbreaks.
There is no cure for genital herpes. Anti-viral medications such as Valtrex (Valacyclovir HCl) can be taken as medication to control the outbreaks and reduce transmission rates. Diagnosis of genital herpes can be a challenge especially in patients with no symptoms. If you are having the symptoms described above or have been exposed to individuals with herpes lesions, seek help from a physician or any health care provider.