Genital herpes is one of the most frequent sexually transmitted infections globally, but is it the same as oral herpes?
In this article, we will discuss what genital herpes is and which are its symptoms. We will also explain what its relation to cold sores is and how to avoid getting the disease. For more information on this very common sexually transmitted infection, keep reading to get the information you need to know directly from a doctor.
What is genital herpes?
Genital herpes is an infection of the skin that affects the genital area causing painful sores. Herpes simplex virus (HSV) is the common cause of genital herpes.
Infection occurs after having close contact with a person infected with HSV type 2 and 1. Close contact includes vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Also, touching the genitals of an infected person can cause a herpes eruption in the hands.
When the infection happens in the fingers, people call it whitlow finger or herpetic whitlow. Genital herpes is one of the most typical sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) worldwide. It habitually has little or no complications and not requires treatment.
One particular aspect of genital herpes is that the outbreaks occur without genital sores being noticeable. This means someone can have genital herpes without even knowing.
What are the symptoms?
Primary HSV 2 infection has very little or no symptoms. The infected person could experience some discomfort, fatigue, headache, swollen lymph nodes, or even mild fever the first-time lesions appear.
Since men and women have different genitalia, symptoms are different. The typical genital herpes lesion starts with painful blisters. The blister breaks open and forms an ulcer.
Ulcers are areas where the outer part of the skin disappears, and mucous membranes are exposed. These membranes are more tender parts of your body that are covered by your skin. Also, the lining of internal organs like the vagina or the mouth receives the mucosa’s name.
In some cases, two ulcers can grow enough to touch and form a big one. Doctors call this “coalescence of ulcers.” In men, lesions can appear in the foreskin, the gland and the shaft of the penis; and in the scrotum. In women, lesions occur in the external and internal genitals, making it more challenging to identify.
Lesions can also appear in the rectum of men and women who have anal sex. Depending on the location, men could experience an urgency to urinate, pain while urinating, or feeling of incomplete discharge. In women, pain while urinating is also common, but they could also experience unusual smelly discharge. Eventually, some women could experience abnormal bleeding between periods.
What causes recurrent outbreaks of genital herpes?
Like it happens with a cold sore, triggers vary from one person to another. Some people find that irritation from sex causes symptoms to appear.
It is important to remember that anyone experiencing genital herpes symptoms (even when mild) should abstain from sex. However, the people triggered by sexual irritation benefit from lube to prevent a genital herpes outbreak; choosing the right type of lube is also important.
Lube must be water-based since oil-based lubes (like Vaseline or mineral oil) can cause the condom to break. Besides, water-based lubes should not contain spermicides. These are substances used to prevent pregnancy by killing sperm cells. The most common spermicide is nonoxynol-9.
Mainly in women, hormones are a critical genital herpes trigger. Hormonal changes during a woman’s cycle can cause a recurrent outbreak.
An also common trigger with fever blisters and genital herpes is a weak immune system. The same diseases that cause a weakened immune system can trigger all types of herpes infections.
Can genital herpes go away?
Oral and genital herpes act the same way, even though HSV 2 and HSV 1 infection are two different viruses. This means that once you get it, you will always have it.
The virus continues living inside your nerves, where the immune system cannot get rid of it. For some people, genital herpes can become milder as time goes by, and eventually, some might stop having outbreaks. However, this does not mean you are cured.
Something can trigger an outbreak at any time of your life, and depend on the cause; genital sores might reappear. If you start experiencing recurrent genital herpes with more frequent outbreaks, you should consult a healthcare professional.
Living with herpes becomes a manageable situation after identifying active genital herpes. This disease’s diagnosis is made through an evaluation by a doctor of the clinical history and physical exam. There’re also blood tests that can identify the virus’s presence in the body, although they aren’t always accurate. This allows us to take adequate measures to prevent the infection of other people.
Another critical measure when living with herpes is proper genital hygiene. This measure is vital to avoid the over infection of genital ulcers. Bacterial over infection means that bacteria are worsening an ulcer caused by another thing; in this case: a herpes virus.
Does having oral herpes protect me from having genital herpes?
Herpes simplex virus types 1 and 2 are very similar in composition. That causes the body response to be very similar. However, HSV 1 infection occurs for most people during childhood. On the other side, HSV 2 infection happens mainly after the sexual exposition; hence, during adult life. Scientists have not determined if oral herpes infection can protect you from contracting genital herpes.
There are several theories for this issue. For example, some doctors think it protects, and you cannot develop genital sores after having had oral blisters. In other cases, previous oral herpes can make your body respond better to genital herpes. You would still have the sexually transmitted infection (STI), but with milder symptoms. Finally, it is possible that having mouth or lip herpes will not change the possibility of developing a genital herpes infection.
How do you avoid getting or passing on genital herpes? Do condoms help prevent the spread of genital herpes?
If it is impossible to abstain from sex, there are other measures to prevent the transmission of STDs. All forms of sex (oral, vaginal, or anal) have varying risks; therefore, prevention is essential.
A useful measure is to avoid multiple sex partners. If two uninfected people have sex only with each other, the risk is very little. Adequate and sufficient information before a sexual encounter is very important.
If you have a new sex partner, communication is key. Discuss the use of condoms and stick to safe sexual activity. Avoid touching exposed genitals directly with hands or mouth. You can practice oral sex using a condom. If you or your partner have herpes, all forms of sex must be avoided during a herpes outbreak.
In some cases, active genital herpes is not evident, and people could transmit it without notice, like women with internal lesions. That is why using a condom is so important even when herpes sores are not noticeable.
Despite this, condoms are not completely effective in preventing herpes. Male condoms only cover part of the genitals, but sores can still happen in areas where the condom doesn’t cover. Female condoms are a similar alternative. Additionally, different medications are also an option to prevent passing on herpes.
Why is the medication for oral and genital herpes the same?
The same two viruses cause both the oral and genital herpes infection. And herpes simplex virus 1 and 2 have very similar components. That is why you see so many similarities.
Usual treatment medications include acyclovir, famciclovir, and valacyclovir. These medications work by stopping the virus reproduction inside human cells. They are also capable of stopping other viruses of the herpes family.
Even while both diseases can receive the same medications, the amounts are different. That’s why a healthcare professional should always supervise treatment with these drugs. Also, treatment for cold or canker sores is less frequent.
If you have a recurrent infection, several options are available. In genital herpes, you might get a prescription for antiviral medicine, so you take it when you experience a symptom.
If not, you could get a prescription to take a pill every day of valacyclovir. This is called suppressive therapy. Suppressive therapy aims to reduce the number of recurrences. By reducing recurrences, it also reduces the chances of passing on the virus to sex partners.
This suppressive therapy is also useful in pregnant women to prevent passing on herpes to the newborn. Severe complications can present in newborns with herpes infection.
What are the complications of herpes infection in newborns?
Most cases of herpes infections in newborns occur from mothers who don’t know they have genital herpes. Not all babies from mothers with genital herpes acquire de infection. Those at most risk are the ones from mothers who get infected in the late pregnancy.
Babies from mothers with a history of herpes before pregnancy have a lower risk. Women with genital herpes symptoms at the onset of labor should undergo a C-section. Neonatal herpes is difficult for the pediatrician to identify because symptoms are evident when the disease is severe.
Mothers, where genital herpes is not known, also makes it difficult to catch. Most mild cases of neonatal herpes develop skin, eye, and mouth lesions. Half of the mild cases develop severe if they do not receive medication.
Skin and mouth lesions are very similar to those of the adult. Eye lesions can affect the kid’s ability to see. More complicated cases involve the virus affecting the nervous system. These are particularly hard for mothers to notice.
The baby might experience fatigue, weakness, food rejection, irritation, or fever. The most complicated cases affect many parts of the body and leave consequences when not fatal.
What is the difference between genital herpes and genital warts?
Both genital warts and genital herpes are viral infections. Even though they are two different diseases with different causes, symptoms, and complications, let’s review some genital warts information.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the responsible virus for genital warts. This is a sexually transmitted disease that affects both men and women. The first symptoms of HPV appear between weeks or months after sexual contact.
In contrast, genital herpes appears between 4 and 12 days after sexual intercourse. Both viruses cause lesions in the same area, but different types of lesions. HPV lesions on the skin are warts, unlike herpes sore or ulcer.
Warts resemble skin tags, and some have cauliflower or bumpy texture, but others are not visible. Those that are not visible are the ones that may perpetuate transmission. While warts may produce discomfort, the main issue with HPV is cervical cancer.
HPV infection of specific types is the leading cause of cervical cancer. All sexually active women should see a gynecologist once a year to rule out HPV and cervical warts.
Do you have symptoms of this infection?
This tool is a Herpes Symptoms Checker. It gathers the most important signs, symptoms, and risk factors for both oral and genital herpes. Therefore, the tool will aim to identify the likelihood of anybody having this infection. It is free and would only take a few minutes.