Genital Herpes is a common sexually transmitted disease (STD) that any sexually active person could get. Genital herpes is typically caused by the herpes simplex virus-2 (HSV-2) or the herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV-1); HSV-1 is the virus that is usually responsible for causing cold sores. Once a person is infected with this virus, it lies dormant in the body and can reactivate many times a year. Genital herpes can cause pain, itching, and sores in the genital area. Some people do not show signs and symptoms of genital herpes. If you are infected with genital herpes, you could be contagious even if you don’t have visible sores. There is not currently a cure for genital herpes, but the symptoms can be treated with medications.
According to the CDC, genital herpes is common in the US and affects more than one out of every six people ages 14-49.
How is Genital Herpes Spread?
There are two types of viruses that can cause genital herpes:
- HSV-1 is the virus that typically causes cold sores around your mouth. HSV-1 is typically spread through skin-to-skin contact, and recurrences are far less frequent than they are with the HSV-2 virus.
- HSV-2 is the virus that more commonly causes genital herpes. This virus is spread by sexual contact or skin-to-skin contact with an infected partner. This virus is widespread and very contagious.
You can get genital herpes by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone infected with the virus. You can get infected with the herpes virus if you come into contact with the virus through a person's sore, saliva, or genital secretions of an infected partner and from the skin in the oral or genital area of an infected partner. It is possible to become infected with genital herpes if you receive oral sex from a sexual partner with oral herpes. Because the virus dies so quickly outside of the body, it is virtually impossible to get herpes from toilet seats, bedding, swimming pools, or other objects around the house like silverware, soap, or towels used by an infected person.
Symptoms of Genital Herpes
Many people infected with genital herpes do not show symptoms or have extremely mild symptoms that could be confused for a different skin condition. When symptoms are present, they may begin around 2-12 days after contact with the virus. Symptoms of genital herpes could include:
- Pain - you could have pain and tenderness in your genital area until the infection clears.
- Small red bumps - these could appear a couple of days to a couple of weeks after infection.
- Tiny white blisters - these could appear a couple of days to a couple of weeks after infection.
- Ulcers - an ulcer may form when a blister breaks and seeps or bleeds.
- Scabs - scabs will form as ulcers heal.
During the initial outbreak, you may also have flu-like symptoms, including swollen lymph nodes in your groin, headache, muscle aches, and fever. Both men and women can develop sores on the buttocks, thighs, anus, mouth, and urethra. Women can also develop sores in or on the vaginal area, external genitals, or cervix. Men can also develop sores in or on the penis or scrotum.
A genital herpes infection can differ from person to person, and the symptoms could recur on and off for years. Some people infected with the virus experience many outbreaks every year; however, the outbreaks tend to become less frequent as time goes by. Signs of a recurrence before sores appear could include burning, tingling, and itching in the area that the infection first entered your body or pain in your lower back, buttocks, and legs. Recurrent outbreaks tend to be less painful than the initial outbreak, and sores tend to heal more quickly.
How to Reduce Your Risk of Getting Genital Herpes
The only way to completely avoid genital herpes, and STDs in general, is not to have vaginal, anal, or oral sex. If you are sexually active, you can do these things to reduce your chances of getting genital herpes:
- Be in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who is not infected with genital herpes.
- Use latex condoms every time you have sex. Be aware that not all herpes sores are in the areas that are covered by a condom, so a condom may not fully protect you from getting herpes.
If you are in a relationship with a person who is known to be infected with genital herpes, you can lower your risk of getting genital herpes if:
- Your partner takes an anti-herpes medication daily.
- You avoid having vaginal, anal, or oral sex while your partner is symptomatic.
Genital Herpes And Pregnancy
If you are pregnant and have genital herpes, it is important to talk to your doctor. Some research has shown that genital herpes could lead to miscarriage, or it could increase your chances of delivering your baby too early. Herpes infection can be passed from you to your unborn child before birth, but it is much more common for you to pass it to your baby during delivery. If the virus is passed to your baby during delivery, it could lead to brain damage or eye problems. At the time of delivery, your doctor will examine you for any signs of herpes sores and may recommend a c-section to avoid passing the virus on to your baby during delivery.
How Is Genital Herpes Diagnosed?
A doctor can typically diagnose genital herpes after evaluating your symptoms and possibly doing a physical exam. There are also test available to help in diagnosing genital herpes.
- Viral culture - this test involves taking a tissue sample of the sores to be examined in a laboratory.
- Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test - PCR is used to copy your DNA from a blood or tissue sample from a sore or spinal fluid. The DNA is then tested to see if HSV is present and what type of HSV you have.
- Blood test - This test involves analyzing your blood for the presence of HSV antibodies that will detect if you have had a past herpes infection
Treatment Options For Genital Herpes
There is not a cure for genital herpes. Genital Herpes can be treated with prescription antiviral medications. Treatment with this type of medication may:
- Help sores heal quicker during an initial outbreak.
- Lessen the severity and duration of symptoms in recurrent outbreaks
- Reduce the frequency of recurrence
- Minimize the chance of transmitting the virus to a sexual partner
The antiviral medications used to treat genital herpes include:
- Acyclovir (Zovirax) - Is the oldest antiviral medication for herpes. This medication is taken in pill or liquid form by mouth and has possible side effects, including nausea, diarrhea, headache, or vomiting.
- Valacyclovir (Valtrex) is taken in pill form by mouth and has acyclovir as an active ingredient. Possible side effects include nausea, stomach pain, headache, or dizziness.
- Famciclovir is taken by mouth and works best when started at the first sign of an outbreak. Side effects could include headaches, nausea, and diarrhea.
Treatment for genital herpes differs, whether it is your initial outbreak or a recurrence.
- Initial treatment - If you have symptoms like sores when you are first diagnosed, your doctor will likely prescribe an antiviral medication for 7-10 days. If your sores do not clear up after that, your doctor may keep you on the medication for a longer period of time.
- Intermittent treatment - once you have been treated for your initial outbreak, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication to have on hand if you have another outbreak. It is recommended that you take the medication for 2-5 days as soon as you feel an outbreak coming on or start showing symptoms.
- Suppressive treatment - If you frequently have outbreaks, your doctor may recommend that you take an antiviral medication every day; this is called suppressive therapy. This is typically recommended for people who have more than 6 outbreaks a year, and it can reduce the outbreaks by 70-80% or even prevent any outbreaks at all. Suppressive treatment aims to reduce the recurrence of outbreaks you have by taking antiviral medication daily.
Where To Get Treatment Online For Genital Herpes?
Because genital herpes can be diagnosed by a simple review of your medical history, sexual history, and symptoms, genital herpes can be diagnosed and treated by an online doctor.
Coping & Support
Learning that you have genital herpes can be a shock and cause a variety of emotions. You may feel angry with your partner thinking they gave you the virus, or you may fear rejection by your partner or future partners. It is extremely normal to feel this way, and there are several healthy ways to cope with your diagnosis. It is critical to communicate with your partner and have open and honest conversations about how you feel. Trust your partner, and don’t play the blame game. Because genital herpes can lie dormant in your body for years, it is complicated to determine exactly when you became infected. It is important to educate yourself by talking with your doctor or other health care professional to learn how to live with it and what you can do to reduce your symptoms and risk of infecting others. It may also help to join a support group, such as Wisdo so that you can talk about your experience and emotions and learn from others going through the same thing. It may help seek out professional counseling or online therapy if you are having a difficult time coping with your condition or noticing signs of depression.
We have reviewed many online therapy providers, and one that we trust and highly recommend is Talkspace. Talkspace will connect you with a licensed therapist specializing in treating the symptoms you might be feeling, such as anxiety or shame caused by your having to live with herpes. They treat individuals, couples, and even teens dealing with the emotional effects of genital herpes.
We are all busy with many things on our plate, and dealing with a genital herpes outbreak is an unwanted interruption in life. Taking the first step can be difficult and uncomfortable, especially when it involves an awkward doctor's visit. With the advances in telemedicine, you can set up an appointment with an online doctor, and this provides you with discreet, convenient medical care, all from the comfort of your own home. Some online digital clinics can even ship your prescription treatment plan directly to your door in discreet packaging. Don’t let a herpes outbreak slow you down; check out our list of the top digital clinics so you can keep on living life to the fullest by getting treatment today.