Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease that is caused by the herpes simplex virus, which can be a type 1 or a type 2; most genital infections are the result of a type 2 infection. The herpes virus is passed from person to person through oral to genital or genital to genital contact, so any sexually active individual is at risk for contracting genital herpes. Women who have herpes can pass the infection on to their unborn babies. People with genital herpes are at higher risk of contracting HIV because open sores increase the likelihood of coming in contact with infected blood.
Genital herpes can be avoided by using precaution when engaging in sexual activity. Abstinence from sex or monogamy with an uninfected partner is the most effective preventative technique, and knowing one’s own status and the status of one’s partner is important. The use of lubricated condoms can greatly reduce the risk of infection, although any skin-to-skin contact poses a risk. Talk with your provider about whether testing for genital herpes is right for you.
Many people infected with herpes type 2 are not aware of their infection; they may not have sores, and if they do, the sores can easily be mistaken for insect bites or other skin condition. However, if signs and symptoms do occur during the first outbreak, they can be pronounced. Initial symptoms can include an outbreak of sores within the first week of infection, with a fever and other flu-like symptoms. Other symptoms include pain, itching and burning, and severe cases can include discharge, muscle pain, swollen lymph nodes and painful urination. Outbreaks can be recurring, although the frequency usually decreases over time.
Although genital herpes is not fatal, it is a virus and cannot be cured. Antiviral medications can shorten and prevent outbreaks during the period of time the person takes the medication, and can also reduce the likelihood of transmission of herpes from an infected partner to an uninfected partner.