WHAT IS GENITAL HERPES?
It is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types of HSV: type I and type II
HOW IS GENITAL HERPES TRANSMITTED?
- Sexual intercourse with an infected person
- Your infected sexual partner may not have any visible sores or ulcers
- Mother-to-child transmission during the passage through the birth canal
- The are two presentations in genital herpes:
primary/first episode herpes and recurrent herpes
WHAT IS PRIMARY / FIRST EPISODE HERPES?
- Primary infection with genital herpes is usually more severe and lasts longer than recurrent attacks, generally 2 to 3 weeks
- Groups of small blisters are the first signs
- The blisters usually break down to form erosions (shallow ulcers) in the genital/anal area
- Swelling of groin lymph glands
WHAT IS RECURRENT HERPES?
- Recurrent herpes is usually milder than the primary infection and usually heals within a week
- Recurrent herpes may be preceded by itch and irritation in the area where the blisters have not yet appeared
- Not everyone who is infected with HSV gets recurrent attacks and there is no way of predicting how often the attacks will occur
- In general the attacks tend to become less frequent as time goes by
- Herpes recurs because the virus hides in the nerve roots between attacks and reappears periodically to cause symptoms and signs
WHAT HAPPENS WITH PREGNANT MOTHERS WHO HAVE GENITAL HERPES?
- Infected mothers may pass on the infection to their babies
- The baby may be infected during the passage through an infected birth canal
- Mothers should inform their obstetrician or STI specialist to determine the best method of delivery
- Herpes infection in newborns may be serious, eg. blindness, mental retardation
HOW DOES ONE DIAGNOSE GENITAL HERPES?
- Herpes is often diagnosed by its characteristic clinical appearance
- A culture test helps to confirm the diagnosis
- Another test called the Tzanck test is the examination of the infected fluid in the blisters for special cells. The Tzanck Test can be used as a diagnotic aid
- Many people have had previous exposure to oral herpes infection (cold sores on the lips) which is usually caused by HSV Type I, they will show positive blood tests but this does not mean they have genital herpes (which is usually caused by HSV Type II)
- A person who has acute infection with HSV for the first time may not have a positive blood test till 6 weeks later.
IS THERE A CURE FOR GENITAL HERPES INFECTION?
- No, genital herpes is not curable
- However it is not a life threatening infection in adults
- Treatment is aimed at each episode or attack
- Oral antiviral agents like acyclovir, valacyclovir and famciclovir, are useful in reducing the severity of attacks if given early
- They are usually given for the more severe primary genital herpes attacks
- Antiviral creams may be useful for recurrent genital herpes attacks, they should be applied during the prodromal (early) stage of the recurrence
- No drugs to date have been shown to halt or reduce the number of recurrent attacks permanently
WHAT SHOULD I DO?
- Seek treatment immediately from medical experts
- Refrain from all sexual activity until all the sores have healed
- Do not self medicate
- Be on the lookout for prodromal symptoms as they may be signs of an impending recurrence
- Condoms reduce the transmission of genital herpes
- Seek expert advice if you have questions regarding future children or pregnancy
WHAT IS SAFER SEX?
- This is sex without the exchange of body fluids, e.g. vaginal secretions or semen, during sex
- Use condoms correctly and every time you have sex
- Do not consume alcohol before or during sex, this may impair your judgement