Genital herpes is an infection caused by Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV), which is a virus that attacks the cells of your body. It can affect any part of your body, including your genitalia.
HSV-1 and HSV-2 are the two types of HSV that cause infections. HSV-2 is usually responsible for most of the genital herpes infections, which is why it is often referred to as the “herpes” virus.
HSV-1 is primarily associated with oral herpes infections. HSV-1 is also one of the two types of viruses that cause cold sores in the mouth.
HSV-2 is primarily associated with genital herpes infections. It is estimated that approximately 90% of genital herpes infections occur due to HSV-2.
How do you get genital herpes?
HSV-1 is transmitted by direct contact with the fluid of someone with the infection. This is usually through kissing or sexual activity.
HSV-2 is transmitted by direct contact with the fluid of someone with the virus. This can take place when you have a cold sore, have unprotected sex, or have genital contact with an infected person.
HSV-2 can also be transmitted by the sharing of sex toys, such as sex toys that are not cleaned properly after use.
What are the symptoms of genital herpes?
The most common symptoms of genital herpes are:
- Pain on or around the genitals
- Unusual discharge from the genitals
- A rash or blisters around the genitals
- A tingling sensation in the genitals
Symptoms can appear within 2 to 21 days after the infection has taken place.
Some people may experience more severe symptoms, such as:
- Body aches
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes
How is genital herpes diagnosed?
If you think you may have genital herpes, you should see your doctor. Your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms and medical history. They may also perform a physical exam to check for any signs of an infection.
Your doctor may also take a sample of the fluid in the vagina or penis to test for HSV infection.
How is genital herpes treated?
The treatment for genital herpes is usually a type of antiviral medication called valacyclovir (Valtrex). Valacyclovir is usually taken for up to 6 weeks.
Some people may also need to take an antibiotic called acyclovir (Zovirax) to help with the symptoms. This is usually only necessary if you are experiencing severe symptoms.
In some cases, you may need to take medicine to reduce the risk of passing the infection on to others. This medicine may be taken for up to 6 months.
Preventing genital herpes
It is possible to prevent the spread of genital herpes. You can do this by:
- Using a condom during sex
- Using a dental dam during sex
- Using a shower cap or glove during oral sex
- Not sharing sexual toys
- Not sharing sex toys
Outlook for genital herpes
HSV-1 infections usually last for one to two weeks. HSV-2 infections usually last for seven to ten days, and can last for up to a year.
The symptoms of the infection usually begin to improve after a week or two.
The symptoms of genital herpes can come and go. Some people may experience no symptoms for weeks or months.
Sometimes, the infection may continue for years after the initial infection.
Where can I get help if I have genital herpes?
If you have genital herpes, you should talk to your doctor. They can help you manage the symptoms and prevent passing the infection on to others.
You can also ask your doctor for a doctor who is experienced with genital herpes.
Possible complications of genital herpes
In most cases, HSV-1 and HSV-2 infections are not life-threatening. However, complications can arise.
These complications include:
- Infection of the bloodstream
- Infection of the eyes and/or brain
- Infection of the penis, rectum, or throat
- In rare cases, a severe case that requires hospitalization
The outlook for people with genital herpes depends on the type of HSV infection you have.
Risk factors for genital herpes
You may be more likely to develop genital herpes if you have:
- A weakened immune system
- A sexual partner who has genital herpes
- A history of a sexually transmitted infection (STI)
- A lack of regular sexual activity
- A new sexual partner
You may also be at risk if you:
- Have an open cut or sore on your genitals
- Have multiple sex partners
- Have had the infection before
- Have had a recent outbreak
- Have had unprotected sex
- Have recently had a baby
- Are pregnant
- Have HIV
How can I prevent my partner from getting genital herpes?
You may have to take extra precautions to prevent the spread of the infection.
You should avoid having sex with your partner if they:
- Have genital herpes
- Have genital sores
- Have a cut or sore on their genitals
- Have a cold sore on their mouth.
What is the outlook?
If you have genital herpes, you can take steps to reduce the risk of transmitting the infection to others.
Your doctor can help you determine if you need a treatment plan and if your symptoms are improving.
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