Genital herpes is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases in the U.S. It is a common and highly contagious infection usually spread through sex. Genital herpes virus is passed from one person to another through sexual contact. This happens even if the person with the virus doesn’t have symptoms or signs of infection.
Most people with genital herpes don’t know they have it because the symptoms are mild sometimes. So what are the signs and symptoms of genital herpes? How is genital herpes diagnosed? How to get rid of genital herpes? Keep reading to find out.
What is genital herpes?
Genital herpes is an infection by herpes simplex virus (HSV) of the genitals. It is a sexually transmitted disease (STD). This STD causes herpetic sores, which are painful blisters (fluid-filled bumps) that can break open and ooze fluid. Most people either have no or mild symptoms and thus do not know they are infected. When symptoms do occur, they typically include small blisters that break open to form painful ulcers. Flu-like symptoms may also occur. Onset is typically around 4 days after exposure with symptoms lasting up to 4 weeks. Once infected further outbreaks may occur but are generally milder.
How is genital herpes diagnosed?
Sometimes, genital herpes is mistaken for vaginal yeast infections, bacterial infections, or bladder infections. The only way to know whether they are the result of HSV or another condition is to be checked by a health care provider. In most cases in which the characteristic signs and symptoms are present, they are sufficient to establish a diagnosis of genital herpes infection. Laboratory tests, such as viral culture and nucleic acid amplification (polymerase chain reaction or PCR) tests to detect the genetic material of the virus, are also available. Immunologic tests to identify antibodies to genital herpes are other possible tests to establish whether infection has occurred.
What are the signs and symptoms of genital herpes?
Many people who get herpes never have symptoms. Sometimes the signs are mild and are mistaken for another skin condition. Individuals might notice symptoms within a few days to a couple of weeks after the initial contact. Or, they might not have an initial outbreak of symptoms until months or even years after becoming infected. When symptoms occur soon after a person is infected, they tend to be severe.
General symptoms for males include blisters on the penis, scrotum, or buttocks (near or around the anus). General symptoms for females include blisters around or near the vagina, anus, and buttocks. General symptoms for both males and females include the following:
- Flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, headaches, fatigue and body aches.
- The blisters may break open, ooze fluid cause painful sores.
- A crust may appear over the sores within a week of the outbreak.
- Your lymph glands may become swollen. Lymph glands fight infection and inflammation in the body.
After the initial infection, a person may or may not have outbreaks later in life.
How to treat genital herpes?
Medications can reduce the duration and frequency of herpes outbreaks. They can also help reduce the risk of HSV transmission to a susceptible partner. Treatment with antiviral drugs can help people who are bothered by genital herpes outbreaks stay symptom-free longer. These drugs can also reduce the severity and duration of symptoms when they do flare up. Drug therapy is not a cure, but it can make living with the condition easier. Three major drugs are commonly used to treat genital herpes:Zovirax (acyclovir), Famvir (famiclovir), Valtrex (valacyclovir). These are all taken by mouth. Severe cases may be treated with the intravenous (IV) drug acyclovir.
However, antiviral drugs do not wipe out the virus completely. It continues to live in your body. If you stop taking the drugs, you may have more frequent symptom outbreaks. Home remedies you can also try to relieve the discomfort and severity of the symptoms during an outbreak. You can take painkillers such as aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen. Bathe sore areas with a warm salt-water solution twice a day (1/2 teaspoon salt with 1/2 pint warm water). Let air circulate around the sores by wearing loose-fitting clothes. Put an ice pack on the affected area. Wrap the ice pack in a towel or piece of cloth.