Causes Of Genital Herpes
Genital herpes is caused by close, direct, and intimate physical contact with an infected person.
People with penises can transfer the virus during sexual intercourse or other sexual activity.
You can become infected with genital herpes if you come in contact with one or more of the following:
- A herpes sore of an infected partner
- The genital fluids of a partner who has with genital herpes
- The saliva of a partner who has oral herpes
- Skin in the mouth area of a partner who has oral herpes
- Skin in the genital area of a partner who has genital herpes
HSV cannot be contracted by coming into contact with surfaces such as toilet seats, bedding, towels, or swimming pools.
It is very unlikely you will get genital herpes from sex toys, but there is a slight risk if you use the toy immediately after it has been used by an infected person and come into contact with a significant amount of infected fluid.
What Happens In An Hsv Infection
Genital herpes virus is passed from one person to another through sexual contact. This happens even if the person with the virus doesn’t have symptoms or signs of infection.
Once the virus enters through the skin, it travels along nerve paths. It may become dormant in the nerves and remain there indefinitely.
From time to time, the virus may become active. When that happens, the virus travels back along the nerve path to the surface of the skin, where additional virus is shed.
At this point the virus may cause an outbreak of symptoms. Or it may remain undetected.
In either case, the active virus is easily passed from one partner to another through sexual contact. Even wearing a condom may not protect the uninfected partner. The virus can be present on skin that remains uncovered.
The number of recurrences or outbreaks a person can have may vary.
Recurrent Episodes Of Genital Herpes
Recurrences are usually less painful and shorter in duration than the first episode of genital herpes. Over time, episodes usually become less frequent and may eventually stop altogether. Infections caused by HSV1 are less likely to recur in the genital area than infections caused by HSV2.
Recurrences may be triggered by:
- no apparent reason noted.
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Understanding Herpes With H Hunter Handsfield Md
Herpes expert H. Hunter Handsfield, MD, explains the basics about genital herpes, including the difference between genital HSV-1 and HSV-2 infection, testing options and the importance of knowing virus type, and the three-prong strategy for prevention. See more herpes videos at sexualhealthTV.com.
Have a question about herpes youd like Dr. Handsfield or our other experts to answer? Visit our Ask the Experts page to learn how.
What Causes Or Triggers Genital Herpes Outbreaks
Although the cause is unknown, outbreaks are often associated with periods of weakened immune systems, skin wounds, menstruation, fever, nerve damage, tissue damage from surgery, or exposure to extreme climate situations. A genital herpes outbreak or episode occurs when the HSV-1 or HSV-2 virus is reactivated from its dormant stage. Genital herpes is an incurable disease, and once you contract it, you may experience outbreaks throughout your lifetime. Those who are experiencing their first herpes episode of genital herpes can expect to have several outbreaks within a year. Over time these recurrences usually decrease in frequency and severity. The first outbreak of herpes is often the longest outbreak experienced. After that, short and inconsistent episodes can be managed and treated with antiviral medication.
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How Can Males Test For Herpes
Symptoms of herpes in men can be difficult to put down to herpes. This is because signs of herpes can often overlap with other STIs. Consideration should be taken if irritation or redness begins to develop in the genital areas. One should ask a healthcare provider for an examination in the event of symptoms or after coming into contact with someone infected with an STI.
It is likely that your healthcare provider will ask you to carry out a genital herpes test, which involves taking a swab from an open sore. The accuracy of results is determined by the quality of the sample. Symptoms of herpes in men must be prevalent in order to ascertain a positive test result, as asymptomatic individuals will not have blisters from which a sample can be taken. The male herpes test does not differ from methods utilised by women in determining HSV-2 infection.
If you are not able to get a quick appointment with your doctor, you may wish to take a picture of your herpes sores. If you are waiting a few weeks for an appointment, there is a good chance that the outbreak will have healed by then so pictures are a good way to help your doctor to make an accurate diagnosis.
How Does Genital Herpes Affect Pregnancy
- If you get genital herpes during pregnancy, you can spread genital herpes to your baby during delivery.
- If you had genital herpes before pregnancy, your baby is still at risk of getting herpes, but the risk is lower.
Most women with genital herpes have healthy babies. But babies who get herpes from their mother have neonatal herpes. Neonatal herpes is a serious condition that can cause problems in a newborn baby such as brain damage, eye problems, or even death.
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How Do People Get Genital Herpes
Infections are transmitted through contact with HSV in herpes lesions, mucosal surfaces, genital secretions, or oral secretions. 5 HSV-1 and HSV-2 can be shed from normal-appearing oral or genital mucosa or skin. 7,8 Generally, a person can only get HSV-2 infection during genital contact with someone who has a genital HSV-2 infection. However, receiving oral sex from a person with an oral HSV-1 infection can result in getting a genital HSV-1 infection. 4 Transmission commonly occurs from contact with an infected partner who does not have visible lesions and who may not know that he or she is infected. 7 In persons with asymptomatic HSV-2 infections, genital HSV shedding occurs on 10.2% of days, compared to 20.1% of days among those with symptomatic infections. 8
Genital Herpes: Frequently Asked Questions
What is genital herpes?
How common is genital herpes?
World Health Organization estimates that in 2012, 19.2 million new cases of HSV-2 infection happened among adults and youth aged 1549 years worldwide, with around 417 million cases already existing. The highest number of cases are found in WHO African Region and the WHO Region of the Americas. The reason the number of existing cases is so high is because there is no cure for herpes. In the region of the Americas there were around 2.2 million new cases of HSV-2 infections among females and 1.3 million among men in 2012, adding to the already around 45.2 million existing cases for females and 25.1 million existing cases for males.
How is genital herpes spread?
How is genital herpes prevented?
What are the symptoms of genital herpes?
What are the problems of genital herpes?
How does having genital herpes affect a pregnant woman and her baby?
How is genital herpes diagnosed?
What is the treatment for genital herpes?
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How Long Does An Outbreak Last
Herpes outbreaks tend to last 1-2 weeks.
The initial herpes outbreak tends to be more severe and can last longer.
In some cases, symptoms may be present for 2-4 weeks.
Even though the blisters go away, the virus lies dormant in your body and can reactivate at certain periods brought on by a weakened immune system, hormonal changes, surgery, high sun exposure, and physical or emotional stresses.
Its common to experience repeat outbreaks, especially during the first year you have herpes.
Can I Date Someone With Herpes And Not Get It
It is absolutely possible to date someone with herpes and not get it. Equally if you have herpes, it does not mean that you cannot date.
Its important that you and your potential partner have open and honest conversations from the get-go to ensure that both parties stay safe if you are planning on getting intimate.
Whether you have oral or genital herpes, it is super important to ensure that you are having on-going conversations regarding any symptoms or outbreaks you may be experiencing. It is essential that both parties realize that there is always a risk when it comes to herpes.
Even if you are not experiencing an outbreak, you should always use protection to minimize the risk of transmission.
On top of this, there are also daily antiviral medications you can take to suppress the virus. You should speak with your doctor about your suitability in taking this type of medication.
If you are experiencing an active herpes outbreak, avoid sexual contact, whether that is kissing or penetrative intercourse to lower your risk.
Try not to stress, you can live a very normal life with herpes, it just takes some due diligence to ensure that you and your partner are staying safe.
Learn more from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention here:
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Where Do Symptoms Appear
When a person has genital herpes, the virus lies dormant in the bundle of nerves at the base of the spine. When the virus reactivates , it travels nerve paths to the surface of the skin, sometimes causing an outbreak.
Genital herpes, regardless of whether it is HSV-1 or HSV-2, does not cause symptoms on the mouth or face. For more on oral-facial herpes, see the oral herpes page.
How Herpes Is Spread
You are most likely to spread herpes when you have a herpes sore or blister. But many people have time periods when they can still spread the virus even though they dont have symptoms.
And some people spread the infection because they dont realize that they have a herpes sore. Or they may have different symptoms, such as painful urination, that they dont realize are part of an outbreak.
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Is There A Cure For Herpes Simplex
There is no cure for herpes simplex. Once you have the virus, its a lifelong infection.
What is the outlook for people with herpes simplex?
For many people, the first herpes outbreak is the most severe. Many outbreaks are less frequent and milder after the first year of infection. Some people may have only one outbreak and never have another again.
How Is Herpes Diagnosed
Your HCP can diagnose herpes by looking at the sores during a physical exam and by testing fluid taken from the sores to see if you have HSV-1 or HSV-2. There are also specific blood tests, which can be helpful in some patients to figure out which virus type caused the symptoms or to figure out if you have been infected by herpes. Testing for herpes may or may not be included when your health care provider tests for other sexually transmitted infections because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend routine screening.
If you think you have symptoms of herpes or have a partner with genital herpes, see your HCP right away and ask if you need testing and treatment. Its important to call your HCP right away, as you would want to start treatment within 72 hours of the symptoms starting.
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Male Herpes Transmission Rates
Herpes is highly contagious, even when there is no outbreak. Herpes is most contagious during the outbreak, and when its dormant it is generally not contagious. However, sometimes the virus becomes active even without an outbreak. This is called a viral shedding period. So it can be transmitted even without an outbreak happening, and its difficult or impossible to know when viral shedding is occurring.
Heterosexual men are slightly more likely to pass the virus to their female partner than a woman is to a man. Because of the nature of male and female genitalia, it is easier for herpes to be transmitted to a woman by a man than vice-versa. This is because female genitalia has more exposed soft tissue. This is probably why 1 out of 4 American women has herpes, whereas 1 out of 5 American men does.
Transmission rates can also be lowered with Valtrex and condom use, and avoiding sex during outbreaks.
- The likelihood of passing genital herpes to a partner is highest during an outbreak .
- When a person is not experiencing an outbreak, there is a 4-10% chance of transmitting it.
According to studies done by Valtrex, these are the rates of transmission per year of regular sex:
- If partners avoid sex during outbreaks: 4% chance transmission from female to male 8% male to female
- If partners also use condoms or antiviral medication: 2% female to male 4% per year male to female
- If partners also use condoms and antiviral medications: 1% female to male 2% male to female
Signs Of Genital Herpes
Genital herpes can be passed even if an outbreak isnt occuring when infected cells cross from a carrier to a newly infected individual. The virus enters the blood stream and can remain dormant until it flares up, causing a group of open sores to appear on the skin. The open sores will eventually blister and heal over within a few weeks. Other symptoms include:
Questions to ask your doctor
- What is the best treatment for me?
- Are there any side effects to my treatment?
- Is it safe to have unprotected sex if I dont have any sores?
- Can I give myself genital herpes if I also have oral herpes?
- Can I give someone else herpes even if Im not having an outbreak?
- What is the best way to prevent herpes outbreaks?
- Can I live a normal life with herpes?
- Am I at risk of developing any other diseases?
- Are there any support groups in my area?
- If I give my baby herpes, what is the treatment?
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Why You Should Go To A Sexual Health Clinic
You can see a GP, but they’ll probably refer you to a sexual health clinic if they think you might have genital herpes.
Sexual health clinics treat problems with the genitals and urine system.
Many sexual health clinics offer a walk-in service, where you do not need an appointment.
They’ll often get test results quicker than GP practices and you do not have to pay a prescription fee for treatment.
Herpes Signs And Symptoms
While some people realize that they have genital herpes, many do not. It is estimated that one in eight persons in the United States has genital herpes however, as many as 90 percent are unaware that they have the virus. This is because many people have very mild symptoms that go unrecognized or are mistaken for another condition or no symptoms at all.
Because signs can vary a great deal, we recommend that an individual see a healthcare provider to be tested if they have a lesion of any kind. This can be swabbed for testing.
A person may show symptoms within days after contracting genital herpes, or it may take weeks, months, or even years. Some people may have a severe outbreak within days after contracting the virus while others may have a first outbreak so mild that they do not notice it. Because of these possibilities, it can be difficult for people to know when and from whom they may have contracted the virus.
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How Will I Know If I Have Genital Herpes
Genital herpes is not usually accommodated by symptoms. Two-thirds of genital herpes cases are asymptomatic. Getting tested for both HSV-1 and HSV-2 is the only sure way to know if you have genital herpes. Blisters or sores in the genital area, fever, body aches, swollen lymph nodes, headaches, tiredness and painful urination call all be symptoms of genital herpes.
Frequently Asked Questionsexpand All
People with HSV-2 infection have an increased risk of getting human immunodeficiency virus if they have sex with an HIV-infected partner. Taking suppressive therapy does not decrease this risk.
If a woman is pregnant and infected with HSV, it can be passed to the fetus during birth while passing through the womans infected birth canal. This is most likely to occur if a woman first becomes infected with HSV during pregnancy and in a woman who has her first outbreak late in pregnancy. But it also can occur during a recurrent outbreak in a woman who was infected before pregnancy, although the risk is much lower.
If you have sores or warning signs of an outbreak at the time of delivery, you may need to have a cesarean delivery to reduce chance of infection. The decision depends on many factors, including where the sores are on your body and whether the fetus would come into contact with them during delivery.
Yes, in most cases. The herpes virus cannot be passed to a baby through breast milk. However, the baby could get infected by touching a sore on your body. Make sure any sores that the baby could come into contact with are covered when you hold your baby or while breastfeeding. Wash your hands with soap and water before and after feeding your baby. If you have sores on your breast, you should not breastfeed your baby from that breast.
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