Genital herpes is a common sexually transmitted disease that affects roughly half a billion people worldwide. Most individuals with genital herpes don’t realize they are carrying the virus. It is caused by the herpes simplex virus Type 1 or Type 2 (HSV-1, HSV-2). HSV resides in nerve cells until it moves to the surface of the skin. During the beginning of HSV infection, symptoms may include fever, aches, swollen lymph nodes and blisters that break and form sores. Later outbreaks will produce blisters that become sores in the area of infection, and may not be limited to the genitals. Signs of an outbreak may include pain or tingling in the infected area or pain in the lower back, but are not always present. An individual infected by genital herpes can be at a greater risk of HIV infection. Herpes can sometimes cause miscarriage and early delivery and can be passed to an infant during delivery.
HSV viruses are spread through contact. HSV-1 can be spread from the mouth to the genitals during oral sex. HSV-2 can be transmitted through sexual contact or skin contact in the genital area. HSV-1 and HSV-2 will both result in genital herpes if the virus has a chance to infect the genital area. While the virus is active and travels to the skin’s surface, it makes more copies of the viral cells and sheds. Contact with the shedding virus will result in transmission of the disease as will contact with the fluid from a blister in an outbreak. However, HSV cannot survive outside of the human body. Human to human contact is how the virus spreads, not touching an infected surface.
Herpes can be diagnosed through blood tests and cell culture. Antiviral medications can reduce outbreaks and the risk of spreading genital herpes. If you have been diagnosed with genital herpes, talk to your doctor about the most current treatment options. Support groups are available for more resources and information.