Even in today’s modern society, sexually transmitted diseases still remain to be taboo in many circles. Although STDs are as common as any other diseases out there, people still have reservations when it comes to seeking diagnosis or treatment for their disease. It doesn’t help that most people exhibit little to no symptoms as well; so when symptoms actually show up, people are unaware that they might’ve been infected with the disease for a while. Genital herpes in particularly is the infection caused by HSV or the herpes simplex virus, and as its name implies, the disease manifests itself in both areas of female and male genitalia. Genital herpes is spread through direct contact with an infected person’s genitalia or through secretions of someone who is infected. This generally happens through intercourse and even oral sex. It’s important to know that a person doesn’t have to have active sores in order to infect someone else. Once you’ve been infected with genital herpes, there is no cure for the disease.
History and Epidemiology
Even as late as 1975, various medical and nursing textbooks didn’t even include information on herpes based on the false knowledge that the herpes virus was no worse than the common cold. When the antivirus drug acyclovir was developed in 1970, drug company Burroughs Wellcome began to publicize the illness to promote the drug. This led to more public knowledge and more research altogether, which all led to most of what we know today.
A huge chunk of the American population is infected with genital herpes, a rough number of 16% among people aged 14 to 49. The more alarming number, however, is the percentage of people who are truly unaware of their infection. Out of those who are infected, about 80% of people don’t know about their condition. The problem is the fact that herpes is not a routine test for STD screenings due to the fact that current testing doesn’t always bring accurate results. As of now, the best defense anyone has against genital herpes is still the use of condoms.
As we’ve previously mentioned, you can pass the infection of genital herpes without even knowing that you’ve been infected. On the other hand, you can get infected with the disease without even knowing it. For those who get infected, you might not notice symptoms until it manifests itself into an outbreak months or even years later. There are those who notice symptoms of infection within just a few days of contact.
Every person and situation is different. That’s why it’s so important to know if you’re having intercourse with someone who has it or not. When symptoms manifest themselves a few days after contact, there’s a tendency for the outbreaks to be severe.
Genital herpes start as small blisters on the surface of the skin, which then break open to produce painful sores that are completely raw. These blisters are sores are typically accompanied by other painful symptoms as well. It’s not uncommon to have flu-like symptoms and fever while going through an outbreak. You’re also likely to have swollen lymph nodes. The blisters and sores will likely scab and heal within a few weeks, but the process is long and ever as painful.
Whether you’re a man or a woman suffering from genital herpes, you’ll probably experience a variety of other symptoms throughout your life. You’ll always have areas around your genitals that will have cracking or redness; and while they may not be painful, itchy, or tingly, they’re still quite unsightly and can be uncomfortable. There will be times when you’ll have excessive itchiness and tingling as well; it just varies from person to person.
Apart from developing on the skin surfaces of your genitals—your penis or vagina, you’re also likely to develop blisters in your butt, rectal, and thigh areas. You can only imagine how uncomfortable that may be, especially once the blisters break open into raw skin. There’s also the possibility of blisters developing on your insides, especially in the urethra area. This is the part of the body where urine passes to get out of the body. The pain that’s brought on by urine passing through blisters and sores can be excruciating, especially for women.
It’s difficult to know if you’ve been infected with the disease, especially if the disease doesn’t manifest itself right away. For all you know, you could’ve been infected with it months ago and just find out now. The good news is that there are tests you can take to find out whether you have genital herpes or not. The only condition is that you’ll have to actively seek out the diagnosis on your own—meaning that you need to ask your physician to perform the test for you. Apart from diagnosis through examination of the disease’s physical manifestations of blisters and sores, there really is no other way to get a diagnosis other than to get tested for it.
When you visit your physician for a testing, you’ll get a physical examination and some laboratory tests. Your doctor will likely get a tissue sample from your genital area or a scrape of your sores. The laboratory will then perform a viral culture on whatever specimen is collected.
Your doctor is also likely to perform a PCR test. PCR stands for polymerase chain reaction. In the most simplified terms, it’s basically a DNA testing to establish whether HSV is present and if it is, to determine specifically which type of HSV is present. This is a great test to determine what treatment options should follow after diagnosis. The last testing is a basic blood test, which will help your physician determine whether you have had past herpes infections. This is determined by the presence of HSV antibodies.
As previously stated, there’s absolutely no cure for genital herpes. However, there are options for those who have been infected by the disease. First, the symptoms can be lessened dramatically. Most physicians will prescribe antiviral medications in order to shorten the length of an outburst or even to prevent them. There are medications that work to suppress the development of genital herpes on some, especially those who don’t have ulcers. There are medications you can take less regularly these days that will still bring the same favorable results. Daily antiviral medications are still the best ways to prevent an outbreak.
The antiviral medications commonly used for genital herpes include Acyclovir (Zovirax) and Valacyclovir (Valtrex). These medications should lessen the severity and duration of genital herpes symptoms. Since a herpes outbreak can last weeks, the medications can be especially helpful. Those who get recurrent outbreak will also find that medications will help keep outbreaks to occur less frequently.
You can also increase the healing process during an outbreak by taking a few simple measures. It’s very important to keep the affected area clean and dry. This will give the blisters an environment of healing rather than it spreading. In addition, if you do touch the affected area, make sure that you wash your hands thoroughly in order to prevent the spreading of the infection through your hands.
You’ll want to avoid sexual contact until all your open sores and blisters have completely healed. This means that the scabs should be gone and that new skin should’ve formed in place of the old ones. However, remember that although your blisters have healed, you can still infect someone with the virus regardless of whether you’re having an outbreak or not. Make sure that your sexual partner is aware of the situation, so you can both be better prepared when it comes to safe sex. Protection is your best defense against spreading the disease, and it’s also your partner’s best defense against contracting it.
The medications used to treat genital herpes are generally well tolerated by the body, and they have very few side effects. Some of the most commonly reported side effects include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and inflammation at the injection site. However, there have been side-effect instances of canker sores and various types of ulcers inside the mouth, rash, and unusual weakness or drowsiness. To prevent serious side effects from genital herpes medications, make sure that you consult your physician and follow proper dosing procedures. Acyclovir or Valacyclovir come in capsule, powder, solution, suspension, and tablet form. If you have any preferences, make sure you let your physician know.