Genital Herpes Guide

Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection that affects a number of people worldwide. Genital herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus, which will cause a number of painful blisters to appear in the area it infects when it has been contracted. It is passed from person to person usually via sexual contact whether that be oral sex or penetrative sex. Once you have contracted the virus, it will remain in your system for a very long period of time and in most cases, you will always have the herpes infection. Unfortunately there is no way to treat the infection and you will experience a number of herpes outbreaks throughout your lifetime. However, there are a number of antiviral drugs that can be taken to ease the discomfort and pain from the infection, as well as reduce the number of outbreaks that occur.

Genital herpes is a problem that is increasingly worrying as it is on the rise in certain age groups. The most affected age group is the 20-24 year age range, usually the ages where you have the most sexual partners. What makes this infection so difficult is that a number of people appear asymptomatic so they don’t even realise they are infected until they experience an infection. The first herpes outbreak usually occurs within two weeks of contracting the virus but sometimes it can be weeks, months or even years before you realise there is a problem. Therefore, you can pass the herpes virus onto someone else without even realising you are doing so.

There are two types of herpes virus and type II is the virus that usually causes genital herpes. It affects the mucous linings of the vagina, anus and penis as well as the mouth so it can be passed through intimate contact whether that be sexual intercourse, oral sex or just close skin contact. The virus can be present on the surface of the skin so intercourse is not necessary for transmission. You are most contagious when you are having an outbreak, as the virus is present in the blisters and sores that appear on the skin. Herpes also causes cold sores and it is possible if you have a cold sore and have oral sex, that you can pass it onto your partner’s genitalia.

The virus causes a number of symptoms, which include painful blisters that burst and cause sores. These blisters are usually filled with a straw coloured fluid that will leak when the blisters burst. When the sores are open, they cause quite a bit of pain, especially when urinating as it can aggravate the area. You may also experience fevers and a generally feeling of illness.

Genital herpes cause a number of outbreaks throughout their infection and the first outbreak is usually the worst. After that, you may experience a number of outbreaks with an average of 5-6 per year for the first two years. This is not always the case and they are not as severe as the first outbreak. Some people experience multiple outbreaks and it feels like you are never clear of infection whereas other people may only have one outbreak and that is it. These recurrent outbreaks occur because the virus becomes dormant and rests in your nerves until a later time where it is triggered to cause another infection. These triggers could include stress, injury or aggravation to the area.
There is no cure for genital herpes. However, antiviral drugs can reduce the number of outbreaks that occur throughout the year and to reduce the pain of the blisters by helping them heal faster. A drug named Acyclovir is commonly used and taken for around 5 days during the infection to help clear up the blisters. Some people may take the drug for a period of 6 months if they keep having recurrent outbreaks in an attempt to stop the outbreaks from being so frequent.

If you think you have genital herpes, it is best to go get yourself checked out at either a genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic or a sexual health clinic. If not, you can also visit your local GP. Diagnosis and treatment is free for genital herpes on the NHS and you can get more advice on your situation and what the best way forward is to deal with genital herpes.

The Genital Herpes Virus

The Herpes Simplex virus is the virus that causes genital herpes and it is highly contagious. It belongs to the herpes family, which includes other viruses that cause chicken pox and shingles. The virus can only survive and infect humans and is a common virus worldwide that exists in two types.

The first type of HSV is HSV- type 1 and it is the common cause of cold sores and fever blisters. It is passed in the salvia and causes blisters around the mouth area. It was believed that it only caused infections in this area and couldn’t be passed via sexual contact. However, this was proven to be incorrect as if you have a cold sore and then perform oral sex, you can pass the virus on to the genital area and it can cause genital herpes.

The second type is HSV-type 2, which is the main cause of genital herpes. It is passed through genital fluids during oral contact and causes painful blisters in the genital area and on the thighs.

How does the virus infect cells?

The virus enters through the mucosal linings of the mucous membranes into cells where it heads to the nucleus of the cell. It then proceeds to replicate within the cell and this cell is now infected with multiple copies of the herpes simplex virus. The replication can cause the cells to die, which causes the most well known symptom of blisters on the skin.

How does the virus cause recurrent infections?

Once it has caused an infection, the virus retreats up the nerves in the surrounding areas to a branch point called the ganglia. It then stays there for a long period of time, going unnoticed by the immune system and it doesn’t replicate. It can be triggered by certain stimulus such as stress or sunlight, where upon it travels back down the nerve onto the skin where it causes another infection.

Causes of Genital Herpes »