What Is It?
Genital herpes is caused by the Type 2 of the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV2). This is very similar to Type 1 of the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV1) which causes cold sores.
Genital herpes is a blister which develops into a sore and may occur inside the vagina, on the vagina lips, on the shaft or head of the penis, around the scrotum (balls) or inside and around the anus.
After the initial contact the herpes virus works its way into the nerves under the skin (which may be experienced as a tingling sensation). It damages the skin, causing a painful blister(s) which develops into a sore(s). The sore usually heals after about ten days, becoming hard and crusty. Once healed, they are no longer infectious.
Although the virus remains after the sores have been treated/healed, and may lead to a further outbreak, the infection can only be transmitted whilst the sores are open. So something you can do to reduce the risk of contracting genital herpes is to look at the genitals of your sexual partner to ensure no sores are present.
Occasionally, you may experience flu like symptoms including headache and tiredness for a couple of days before the blister(s) develop.
People can have the Herpes virus and have no symptoms at all.
Genital herpes is transmitted by direct skin to skin contact where a herpes sore is present.
Consequently, herpes can be transmitted through almost all forms of sexual activity if sores are present: penetration, tribadism (rubbing vulvas) and licking or sucking the penis, vagina, or anus.
Herpes can also be transmitted from a pregnant woman to her baby.
Sometimes the herpes will recur although normally these outbreaks will not be as bad as the first time symptoms are experienced.
Please Note – due to the fact that the sores develop on the skin, and the virus tends to shed, condoms and other barriers may not offer complete protection from genital herpes. However, it is safer to use condoms and/or glyde dams for licking or sucking the penis, vagina, or anus.
Although the virus remains after the sores have been treated, and may lead to a recurrence of genital herpes, the infection can only be transmitted whilst the sores are visible. So something you can do to reduce the risk of contracting genital herpes is to look at the genitals of your sexual partner to ensure no sores are present.
If you notice a blister-like sore on yourself or your sexual partner, then a visit to the STI Clinic is recommended.
If you have been diagnosed with genital herpes it is important to take the following precautions to prevent the sores developing elsewhere on your body:
- Wash your hands thoroughly after touching the sores
- Do not share towels
- Do not use saliva to wet contact lenses
The virus can stay in your system for up to 6 months without blister-like sores developing. Once sores appear it is advisable to get them treated, however, the virus remains in your blood. Sometimes people experience another outbreak of sores at a later point.
Repeated outbreaks of herpes may be attributed to certain factors such as:
- Tight clothing
- Extreme changes in temperature (moving from a cold to hot climate or vice-versa)
- Friction from sexual activity
- At a particular menstrual stage
If you can identify the attributing factor, then you may be able to change something to prevent re-occurrence of the outbreaks.
Remember – regular screening at your local STI clinic is recommended to maintain your sexual health.
The herpes sore(s) are dealt with by your bodies immune system, however, there are antiviral creams or tablets, which will assist in your natural healing process. These creams and tablets are available from your local STI clinic.
Bathing the blister(s) in salt water may provide additional pain relief. Calamine lotion applied to the affected area may also be quite soothing.