Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are one of the most dreaded reproductive health issues for couples as these may be the major contributory factors of male and female infertility. Genital herpes is a common STI which is caused by a virus called herpes simplex that gets propagated in humans via sexual contact as well as skin to skin contact. The virus can remain dormant in a person’s body and can recur several times in a year after the initial infection.

The worst thing about this disease is that it can sometimes exist without any symptom (or they may be so mild that the condition is hard to establish) and the patient may inadvertently pass it to his or her sexual partner. Therefore, it becomes all the more important to be aware of this contagious infection so that it can be identified and treated in time before it is spread to others.

Symptoms of Genital Herpes

Genital herpes infects the genitals, with the cervix, vagina and vulva being affected in females and penis, scrotum ad urethra being infected in males. In some cases, the mouth, anus and buttocks may be affected too. The virus is spread through genital contact, with vaginal, oral and anal sex. It can also be transmitted through a cut or break in the skin when one comes in contact with the infected person. Here are the most common symptoms of genital herpes:

  • Pain accompanied by itching can manifest itself within 2-10 day period of being infected
  • This is followed by appearance of small red bumps or white blisters in the genital areas; there might be cold sores in the mouth
  • Formation of ulcers on the rupture of these blisters, which may bleed or ooze
  • After the healing of ulcers, scabs may be formed over the affected areas
  • Painful urination and genital tenderness
  • Flu-like symptoms characterize the initial stages of genital herpes. The patient may experience headaches, general muscular aches, swollen lymph nodes in the groin and fever

One thing to know about genital herpes is that it may or may not exhibit symptoms after the first-time infection and the virus may actually lie dormant in the infected person. From time to time, the virus may become active and result in recurrent symptoms such as cold sores or genital ulcers. Recurrent outbreaks may happen numerous times in a year and may be triggered by factors like alcohol consumption and exposure to sunlight. On the other hand, there are some people who may not develop any symptoms at all ad they may pass on the infection to others without even realizing.

Diagnosis of Genital Herpes

It is advisable to see a doctor as soon as a person suspects the presence of herpes simplex virus. The condition is attributed to two types of virus- HSV-1 which results in cold sores in the mouth area and is spread through oral sex and HSV-2, the more contagious one that spreads through skin to skin contact and sexual intercourse. The risk of contracting the virus is higher in people with multiple sexual partners and those who practice unsafe sex.

When a patient seeks medical advice for suspected genital herpes, the gynecologist will first ask some questions regarding the symptoms, their past history and sexual behavior. Additionally, a physical examination is done to check out the presence of any symptoms. A few diagnostic tests are then recommended to confirm the presence of the virus:

  • Viral culture test which is done by scraping a tissue sample from the infected area and examining it in the lab
  • Blood test to evaluate the presence of HSV antibodies in the bloodstream
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction Test, also known as PCR test, involves testing of DNA from a sample of blood, spinal fluid or tissue sample to establish the presence of the virus

Complications Caused by Genital Herpes

Whether or not genital herpes cause active symptoms in a patient, yet it is a serious problem which can lead to a series of complications:

  • A person infected with genital herpes is at an increased risk of other STIs such as AIDS
  • The virus is dangerous for pregnant women as it may be passed to the baby during childbirth; the implications are so serious that it can result in blindness, brain damage or even death of the infant. Special care and treatment during pregnancy is needed in such cases, while the gynecologist may opt for C-section delivery to minimize the risk of transferring the infection to the baby
  • Rectal inflammation may be seen in infected people who indulge in anal sex
  • The infection may spread up to the bladder and cause sores and swelling in the urethra, resulting in pain and burning sensation during urination
  • In rare cases, genital herpes can cause meningitis, a condition that leads to inflammation of membranes of the brain and spine

Treatment and Precautions

There is no known cure for genital herpes yet, though antiviral medications are effective for easing out the symptoms and reducing the frequency of recurrent episodes. The medicines may be recommended during an outbreak or otherwise too. Anesthetic ointments can be used locally to relieve the pain and itching in the sores. Application of ice packs also helps, while keeping the area clean and dry is important.

Taking precautions is the best way to deal with genital herpes. Safe sex practices such as avoiding multiple sexual partners and using condoms can reduce the risk of infection to a considerable extent. Also, an infected person should be honest enough to share the fact with their partner and avoid unprotected sex. Pregnant woman need to be extra careful and communicate with their gynecologist so that antiviral treatment can be started to protect the baby from the infection.

Gaudium IVF is a renowned IVF Centre in Delhi where patients are offered advanced infertility treatment along with excellent care for reproductive and gynecological issues. Visit here for a free second opinion from Dr Manika Khanna, the leading IVF specialist in Delhi.