What is Genital Herpes?

Genital herpes or genital herpes is an infectious disease caused by herpes viruses. At the same time, genital herpes is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases.

What is genital herpes?

Genital herpes or genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease caused by herpes viruses.

The same viruses are also responsible for the development of cold sores. Genital herpes is mainly transmitted through unprotected sex.

In some cases, the child may be infected with the virus from the mother at birth. Herpes diseases are treated with the virus-inhibiting active ingredient aciclovir.

About 10 to 20 percent of the population in Germany are affected by the herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2).

Causes

The triggers for genital herpes are the two types of herpes simplex virus, HSV-1 and HSV-2. Both types can cause both genital herpes and herpes labialis ( cold sores ). Genital herpes is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases worldwide. It is estimated that between 20 and 30 percent of the world’s population carry the herpes virus.

After the initial infection, herpes viruses lie dormant unnoticed in the nerve cells of the spinal cord. If the immune system is intact, the herpes viruses do not cause any symptoms. However, if the immune system is weakened, the virus is reactivated and herpes erupts. The causes of a weakened immune system can be, for example, cancer, bacterial infections, stress, injuries or mechanical irritation of the nerve node infected with the virus.

The initial infection occurs through direct contact during sexual intercourse or through smear infection, for example when using the same towel with an infected person. The initial infection can go unnoticed and almost without symptoms.

The herpes viruses penetrate the body via the mucous membrane of the genitals or the oral cavity and follow the nerve tracts. In the nerve cells, they hide in the cell nucleus and are therefore unassailable for the body’s own immune system.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

In some cases, genital herpes is asymptomatic and therefore goes unnoticed. Other sufferers have clear symptoms, which usually occur in phases and last for a few days. After a flare-up, there are weeks without symptoms. After an infection with genital herpes, the first flare-up usually occurs after a period of two days to two weeks.

A characteristic symptom of genital herpes is the appearance of fluid-filled, sometimes very painful, small blisters with a red halo. If these burst, crusting and scab formation occurs. The skin on the affected areas is very red and swollen. As a rule, this is also associated with significant itching and burning. Some sufferers also have vaginal discharge and painful urination.

The blisters typically first appear on the labia, vagina or penis, but can then spread to the anus and thighs. In people with a weakened immune system, it can also happen that the internal organs are affected. Rarely, fever and swollen lymph nodes also occur. In the worst case, this can lead to death.

Diagnosis & History

The symptoms of reactivation of the herpes virus (secondary infection) are severe itching in the genital area, small painful blisters on the mucous membrane, some of which are filled with pus, and swollen lymph nodes in the adjacent groin area. Genital herpes can also cause discharge. Genital herpes is diagnosed by means of a smear of the blister contents in the laboratory.

Secondary consequences of genital herpes can be inflammation of the vagina or glans. The intestinal mucosa can also be infected by a smear infection. The herpes virus plays an important role in the development of cervical cancer. Doctors suspect that infection with genital herpes can be a risk factor for cervical cancer.

The virus can infect the central nervous system or internal organs, which can lead to serious complications. However, these cases are very rare.

Complications

If a herpes infection in the intimate area is treated in a timely manner by antiviral agents, the likelihood of complications is low. They can then only occur in people with a weakened immune system. In general, herpes simplex viruses can spread through the body to many other organs if there is a lack of defense.

In principle, they can attack all organs that are traversed by nerve fibers, because the two forms of the herpes virus remain dormant in them for a lifetime.

Complications that imply an attack on the retina, the liver, the esophagus or other organs occur in almost all cases as a result of reactivation of the herpes simplex virus. This can happen weeks, months or even years after an initial infection and even after treatment.

Genital herpes can also spread acutely to affected areas of skin in the intimate area. Inflammation, psoriasis and other irritations are an easy entry point for the virus and thus ensure that the clinical picture extends to the skin. If left untreated, this can lead to sepsis.

In addition, an active genital herpes infection during pregnancy can, in the worst case, be passed on to the child. The infection then affects internal organs, the skin and, in the worst case, the central nervous system. Infection can also pass from mother to child during birth.

When should you go to the doctor?

If severe itching and painful blisters of pus are noticed in the genital area, it may be genital herpes. A doctor should be consulted if the symptoms do not go away on their own after two to three days at the latest.

If other symptoms such as discharge or swelling of the lymph nodes occur, professional advice must be sought immediately. A sudden, strong feeling of illness in connection with skin changes in the intimate area also indicates a serious illness that needs to be clarified and treated.

If left untreated, the herpes virus can infect other parts of the body and organs. At the latest when symptoms in the liver, kidneys, esophagus, eyes or skin are noticed, a doctor’s visit is indicated. Pregnant women with suspected genital herpes should speak to the gynecologist immediately. People who suffer from a disease of the immune system should also have the symptoms clarified.

Likewise, older people and people who can attribute these symptoms to sexual intercourse. Parents who notice such signs in their child should consult the pediatrician. In case of doubt, the medical emergency service can be contacted first. In a conversation with a specialist, the symptoms can be clarified and further steps can be taken.

Treatment & Therapy

Genital herpes is usually treated with antiviral drugs such as aciclovir or famciclovir. The active ingredients are available as an ointment for external local treatment and as tablets for oral use. In the case of a mild form of genital herpes, the application of aciclovir ointment is usually sufficient to bring the disease to subside.

However, if the symptoms are more pronounced, treatment with aciclovir tablets must also be carried out to stop the herpes virus from multiplying. In very severe cases, the drug can also be injected intravenously. The drugs require a prescription, and a doctor’s visit is essential for genital herpes.

It is also very important that the sexual partner is treated at the same time in order to avoid reinfection.

However, the antiviral drugs cannot completely eradicate the virus. It remains in the body for life and can be reactivated at any time if the immune system is weakened. In individual cases, children or seriously ill children whose immune systems are not yet fully developed or weakened can experience an infestation of the entire body with the herpes virus.

Outlook & Forecast

Genital herpes has a good prognosis. The pathogens are very contagious and can easily be transmitted to other people. At the same time, they can also be effectively combated and killed with drug treatment. Timely and professional medical care is important for a favorable prognosis.

At the first sign of genital herpes, a special ointment should be applied to the affected areas so that the pathogen is killed quickly. If the herpes blisters burst, the disease spreads further. Blisters form again, which delays the healing process.

Genital herpes heals completely without medical treatment. The symptoms usually subside within seven to ten days. After about two weeks, the affected person experiences freedom from symptoms. This way is usually more difficult and associated with more inconvenience. In addition, the risk of infection for other people increases.

Despite the good prognosis, most people will relapse in their lifetime. Genital herpes also has a good chance of healing if it breaks out again. Due to the experience gained, the patient often reacts more to the first signs and can then achieve a shortening of the recovery process.

Prevention

The prevention of genital herpes is based on two main areas. Since the transmission occurs mainly during sexual intercourse, it is important to ensure adequate protection by condoms if you frequently change sexual partners and to ensure adequate sexual and genital hygiene.

If a genital herpes infection is known, prevention lies in strengthening the immune system so that the virus does not reactivate and the virus breaks out again. You can strengthen your own immune system with simple means:

With enough sleep, avoidance of stress, a healthy, varied and vitamin-rich diet, a healthy lifestyle and regular physical activity. Health, joie de vivre and well-being are the guarantee for a well-functioning immune system.

Aftercare

A number of treatments have been developed over the years that provide effective relief from the symptoms of genital herpes. The following treatments can ease the pain and discomfort of genital herpes sores. Salt baths used to wash the genital area can clean, soothe, and dry the sores. Use a teaspoon of salt in 600ml of water or a handful in a shallow bath.

Pain relievers include simple analgesics (such as aspirin and acetaminophen), ice (which can have a soothing effect when applied directly to the sore), and creams with a numbing component. However, creams can slow drying and should therefore be used sparingly and only for pain relief. Loose underwear, preferably cotton (not nylon), can help minimize herpes symptoms and allow healing.

For anyone experiencing extreme pain when urinating – sitting in a warm bath or filling a pump bottle with water and spraying yourself with water while urinating can make the process less painful. It is extremely important to drink plenty of fluids as this dilutes the urine and can help minimize the pain of urination.

You can do that yourself

Since genital herpes is a viral infection, those affected should always ensure that they have a stable immune system. Eating a healthy diet and getting enough exercise can support your immune system.

This also includes adequate sleep, reducing stress and avoiding toxins and pollutants. The consumption of nicotine, alcohol and drugs as well as the abuse of medicines are to be avoided. Body weight should be within the normal range. A diet rich in vitamins and low in fiber is highly recommended.

Those affected often complain that the cause of genital herpes is triggered by individual psychological factors. Even if there is insufficient scientific evidence, the personally suspected triggers should be avoided. At the first signs of an outbreak of the disease, it is advisable to use medical products or appropriate home remedies as soon as possible.

The virus spreads within a few hours, so first aid is very important for the further course of the disease. The clothing worn in the affected region must be disinfected. The fingers should also be cleaned thoroughly at regular intervals.

Great care should be taken to avoid transmission to other people or other body regions. Due to the risk of infection, the use of public baths or sexual intercourse should be avoided if possible until the infection has healed.

Genital Herpes