Genital Herpes in Women-a complete guide to HSV

Genital Herpes in Women-a complete guide to HSV



Herpes is a sexually transmitted infection that causes painful blisters on or inside the genital area or in the mouth. They occur due to Herpes Simplex Virus. The virus spreadthrough oral, vaginal, and anal sex. There are two types of HSV. HSV-1 and HSV-2. 

• HSV-1 is known as oral herpes, as it causes sores around or on lips and mouth. It can be spread through kissingand sharing toothbrush of someone who is alreadyinfected with the virus. This type of herpes can cause genital herpes
• The type 2 herpes, HSV-2is known as genital herpes. In this the genital area of a person is infectedIn the same way that type 1 herpes can cause genital herpes, type 2 can cause oral herpes.

Women’s genital herpes is more painful than men’s, and itoccurs around the vulva or inside the vagina. The infection can also spread to their cervixwhich may lead to cervicitis. 

Does genital herpes affect women more than men?

Herpes is a very common STI. 1out of 6 people in the demographic age group of 14-49 contracts the infection. 

• HSV-2 that causes genital herpes is known to affect more women as compared to men.
• Women are more susceptible to the virus as male-to-female transmission is easier than female- -to-male. 
• The statistics shows that roughly 1in 5 women contracts the virus, as oppose to 1 out of 9 men. 

Genital Herpes(HSV) vs. Human Papillomavirus(HPV)

HPV just like the herpes is a sexually transmitted infection. Both of the diseases causes skin infection and irritation. As they have almost same characteristics, people often confuses the twoBut they have many differences. 

• FirstlyHPV is caused by the human papillomavirus and herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus. 
• Herpes infection causes a variety of symptoms such as soreness, high fever, headaches, swollen lymph nodesand so on. But HPV does not have any symptomswhich makes it difficult to catch it.
• HPV does not have any symptomsbut it cause genital warts, which may be singular or in groups, and they do not cause any irritation. But the genital sores that herpes causes are itchyand painful and they look like pimplesor blisters.
• There are two strains of herpesHSV-1 and HSV-2. HPVhas more than 100 strains, some of which causserious harm to the body. For instance, HPV16 and HPV18result in most of the HPV related cancer.
• As discussedHPV can cause cancer in people, making it more dangerous than herpes. So that is not the case with herpes, as it does not cause any life threatening disease. 
• Both HPV and herpes can be prevented by using condoms and dental dams(oral sex), but HPV can also be prevented by getting HPV vaccine. 

What are the genital herpes symptoms and signs?

When a person contracts the infection, they may not show the symptoms right away. They may begin to show in 2 to 12 days after the exposure to the virus.

First outbreak

• During first outbreak of herpes a woman may feel symptoms similar to the flu. Like headaches, exhaustion, body aches, fever, feeling cold, and swelling of the lymph nodes. 
• Pain and itching are common symptoms wherever there are sores. 
• These sores occur on, inside or around the vagina, thighs, and buttocks. 
• When these sores ruptures and bleeds they may cause ulcers, which makes it painful to urinate, and painful urination only happens to women. 
• Herpes also cause unusual vaginal discharge.
• Herpes can also be in the cervix of a woman, which results in the cervicitis.

In the initial stage herpes can last upto 2-weeks. And as there is no permanent cure of herpes yet, they occur off and on for years.

Recurring Symptoms

HSV affects every women differently. The frequency with which the symptoms recur may differ. Some gets it morefrequently and others may experience it less. The recurrence of the outbreaks depends on many factors such as: 

• Stress

• Menstruation

• Surgery

• Hormonal changes

• Fever

• Fatigue

• Weakened immune system

So when the symptoms may reappear you may feel:

• Pain in your body, especially lower back, thighs and buttocks.
• Itching will occur in the places where there were sores before.

Are genital symptoms in women different than men?

The symptoms in men and women who have contacted herpes are more or less the same. There are a few extra symptoms which female gets. However the main difference is in the area where the sores may appear. 

• In both women and men, herpes causes sores on the anus, urethra, thighs and buttocksin womenthey appear on the vulva, external genitals and cervix. Similarlymen get them on their scrotum and penis.
• There are cases in which some women does not have any other symptoms, and cervicitis is the only sign of genital herpes. 
• The additional symptoms that the women have are:
▪ Changes in vaginal discharge.
▪ Blisters on the cervix
▪ Painful urination
▪ Decreased Appetite.

Therefore Herpes are more painful for women as compared to the men.

How long a herpes outbreak last?

Herpes affects every individual differently. The time to show the symptoms, the time to recover from them and how frequently they may occur. But there is a certain time frame in which herpes outbreak lasts. 

• In the initial stage of genital herpes, the outbreak may last from 2 to 6 weeks.
• Even after the disappearance of the sores, the virus stays in the body as there is not a permanent cure for herpes yet. So when a person contracts herpesit remains in their body fir the rest of their lives.
• When the first outbreak is over, there are high chances of herpes to return. Many people gets several outbreaks in a year.
• But you can reduce the number of these outbreaks by taking antiviral medication. With the help of these medicinesthe outbreaks are shorter and less painful. For instance, the blisters may remain for only a week.  

How do you get genital herpes? Is herpes viral?

Genital herpes as discussed is a sexually transmitted disease, therefore the main cause of it is sexual. So in the sexual manner these are transmitted are:

• Having unprotected vaginal and anal sex.
• Using the same sex toys without washing them
• Oral sex can also lead to genital herpes. If your partner with oral herpes perform oral sex on you. 

The disease can also transmit in a non-sexual way.

• If a person touches sores on their mouth and then touches they genitals, they can get herpes.
• If a woman have sores during birth, she can pass it to her baby.

Herpes is a viral disease as it occurs due to Herpes Simplex Virus. There are two types of HSV. 

• HSV-1 or oral herpes
• HSV-2 or genital herpes.

If not treated properly both of the virus are highly contagious and easily transmitted through the exchange of bodily fluids. 

How is genital herpes diagnosed?

Genital Herpes is not difficult to diagnose. When the blisters like lesions starts to occur, or any symptoms start showing, then you can go to your doctor and with the series of test and physical examinationthey can diagnose the disease.

• Viral culture: In this test the doctor takes a sample of the patients tissue, or they simply takes a part of the blisters and send them for the examination. 
• Blood test: In this your blood is drawn in a vial and is tested for the presence of HSV antibodies.
• PCR or Polymerase Chain Reaction: This test takes your DNA from the blood sample, or the tissue from the sores or spinal fluid. Then DNA is tested for the herpes. Not only this, the PCR can also detect the type of HSV.
• And, herpes can also be detected by simple physical examination by your physician. 

What kind of doctors treat genital herpes?

Genital Herpes can be treated by different doctors. It is true for women especially. 

• OBGYN Doctor: These doctors deal in women reproductive health primarily. So if a woman has genital herpes, a gynaecologist is the best option.
• Infectious disease doctor: These doctors primarily deals in acute and chronic infections whether they are viral or bacterial.
• Primary Care Provider (PCP): They practice general medicines, and are generally the first physician to examine your health. 
• Dermatologist: These are the skin doctors. They are helpful in treating the sores and blisters. 

Is there a Herpes cure?

As of now there is no permanent cure for the herpes. If you get infected with it, it stays in your body forever. Even if you have beaten all the symptoms once, the virus is there lying dormant in the body.

At firstthey are in the tissue of the body, but after some timethey move to the nerve cells. But the antiviral drugs help manage the symptoms of herpes and further outbreaks areshortened. However, these drugs do not destroy the whole virus, and part of it lives in the body.

Like HPV there is currently no vaccination available for herpes. 

What are medications and treatment options for genital herpes?

For both types of herpes HSV-1 and HSV-2, there is no permanent cure but they are treatable. The medications and treatment of genital herpes help the patients by:

• Removing the symptoms and sores from the body.
• It reduces the risk of spreading it and giving it to other people.
• Helps in reducing further outbreaks.
• And, prevents the recurrence of symptoms.

Treatments for genital herpes

• Antiviral medications: Doctors often prescribe these antiviral medications for genital herpes. It stops the virus from multiplying in the body. These are not only used in the initial outbreak but in the recurrent one. 
▪ Acyclovir (Zovirax)
▪ Famciclovir(Famvir)
▪ Valacyclovir(Valtrex)
• Pain relievers: As the blisters and sores are quite uncomfortable and itchy, the doctors prescribe many pain-reliving lotion and medications.
▪ Abreva is a cream which can be applied to infected area.
▪ Tylenol(acetaminophen)
▪ Advil(ibuprofen)
▪ Aleve(naproxen)
• Home treatments: In addition to these clinical treatments and medications, there are many home remedies also which are helpful in treatment of the genital herpes. 
▪ Bathing in warm and salted water.
▪ Applying ice packs to the affected area.
▪ Wearing comfortable and loose clothes. 
▪ Applying petroleum jelly, and many more. 

How is genital herpes treated during pregnancy?

If women gets genital herpes during pregnancy, the possibility of giving the virus to the baby is really low. However, it also depends in which stage of pregnancy, the woman contracts the virus. 

If women have outbreaks of the herpes during the pregnancy, the antiviral medications is given and to further prevent it the medicine is given from 35 weeks till the time of birth.

Before or in the beginning of the pregnancy. 

If a woman has herpes before the pregnancy and in the first trimester, then the chances of infecting the baby is very less. In that case it can be treated with the antiviral drugAcyclovir (Zovirax) and Valacyclovir(Valtrex)These medications are effective in preventing the symptoms and fury outbreaks. 

In fact if a women no longer possesses the symptoms, she can give natural birth. 

In the last stage or trimester of the pregnancy.

If a women contracts the infection in the last trimester of the pregnancy, the chances of passing it to the baby is relatively higherIn about 30-50 out of 100 cases, virus can be passed to the baby.

In this scenario along with the medication, doctors advise them to have baby through cesarean section. This reduces the risk of infection in the baby.

How much are home remedies effective in curing genital herpes?

If an infected person does not want to take medications or want to try some home treatments in addition to the clinical ones, then there are many home remedies available for the treatment. 

There are some home remedies which have proven to be helpful, while some are not proven to be useful. Home remedies that people can try are:

▪ Bathing in warm and salted water
▪ Ice packs can be great reliever for the infected area
▪ Applying some petroleum jelly on the sores and blisters.
▪ Wearing loose and comfortable clothes to avoid irritation.
▪ Applying some cream or lotion to help in the urination. 
▪ Not doing any sexual activity when the symptoms are active, even with the protection. 
▪ Aloe Vera gel can also be soothing for the infected area. 

Is there a link between genital herpes and HIV?

A person infected with the herpes have very high chances of being infected with the HIV. These two can worsen the effect of the other. When a person having HSV develops sore, their immune system tries to heal it. These immune cells which causes HIV are present there on the area. So during the intercourse with the HSV infected person, the chances of  contracting the HIV is more. 

If a person is infected with both herpes and HIV, the herpes causes the HIV to replicate itself more. It weakens the immune system, which results in either of the disease lasting longer.

Is it possible to prevent genital herpes?

Genital herpes though highly contagious are preventable. There are many preventions a person can take.

▪ Practice safe sex, i.e. use condoms and dental dams.
▪ Having multiple sex partners can also increase the chances of contracting herpes. So it is advisable to not have many sexual partners. 
▪ Regularly test yourself and your partners for the STDs.
▪ Before indulging in sex ask your partner about their sexual history.
▪ Also it is totally fine to ask your partner if they ever got infected by any STD
▪ If you find any genital sores and blisters on your partner, refrain from having sex with them.
▪ Oral sex also leads to herpes, so if a person is having cold sores on the mouth, avoid getting oral sex from them.
▪ Refrain from having sex when inebriated. Alcohol clouds the judgement of a person, resulting in unsafe sex , which may lead to genital herpes.

In the end, I would like to point it out that schools and colleges should have sex education in their curriculum. This is the best way to educate young people about all the aspects of the sex. It helps them understand what to avoid and what to do in case they contract any sexual transmitted disease. 

Herpes is the most common STI among people, but it is easily preventable and treatableIf you get herpes you should definitely talk to your doctor about it, as there are number of treatment available. The stigma attached to genital herpes is large, so if you first talk to your partner or someone close to you, it may help you mentallyPeople in general should also be educated about the disease, so they know what to do and what to avoid. 


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