Sexually transmitted diseases happen to other people. This thought may have crossed your mind the last time you had an unprotected sexual encounter, but the fact is sexually transmitted diseases do not discriminate–they have no regard for your gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic standing.
Herpes is the umbrella term that describes a group of viruses, one of which is a sexually transmitted disease. Herpes can manifest itself in several different ways: One type of herpes (otherwise known as herpes simplex virus or HSV) can cause oral cold sores. Genital herpes is the second type of herpes, and is a sexually transmitted disease that can cause sores in the genital area. A third type of herpes is called herpes zoster which causes shingles and chicken pox. This article will focus on genital herpes.
What Are The Symptoms Of Herpes?
Symptoms of herpes may include the following:
- Decrease in appetite
- Unexplained fever
- Muscle aches in lower portion of the body
- Blisters/sores in the genital area
- Pain upon urination
- Vaginal discharge
- Lumps in groin area that are tender to the touch
Genital herpes occurs in several stages. In the initial outbreak (also known as primary herpes), the infected person may feel like he or she is coming down with the flu and may experience symptoms such as body aches, headache and fever. Most of the time a person with herpes will develop sores and may be symptomatic from time to time. Some women only develop herpes blisters on their cervix. As such, those women may be asymptomatic during an outbreak.
A person with herpes will experience several stages of infection.
The primary stage begins between two and eight days following infection, although it may take longer to manifest in some people. The infection typically causes clusters of painful blisters that are filled with a liquid that can be either cloudy or clear. The skin underneath the blister(s) is usually red. Sores will develop once the blister has broken. You may or may not notice the blisters. In addition to the manifestation of blisters, you may notice that it is painful to urinate. You may also develop flu-like symptoms such as fever and body aches. The primary stage is typically the most painful; however, some people have reported being asymptomatic during this time.
The latent stage is a time in which the blisters and sores have healed and the virus begins to travel from the skin to the nerve endings surrounding the spinal column.
The shedding stage is a time in which the virus begins to multiply in the nerve endings. If those particular nerves are located in areas that come in contact with bodily fluids (such as saliva, vaginal fluid and semen), the herpes virus can enter those fluids. Although the virus can spread during this stage, there usually aren’t any symptoms during this time.
Genital herpes is spread primarily through sexual relations with an infected person. The herpes virus can enter the body through a cut or other such opening in the skin, as well as through the skin of the mouth, penis or vagina, urinary tract opening, cervix or anus. Herpes is highly contagious and is most easily transferred to another person when blisters are visible. In addition to spreading from one person to another, herpes can spread from one part of the body to another.
A pregnant women should inform her obstetrician if she has genital herpes or if she has ever had sexual relations with someone who has it. A baby born to a mother who has an active case of genital herpes at the time of delivery may pass the disease on to her newborn baby. This can be very dangerous as brain damage, blindness, and even death of the baby may result. The baby is safe while in the uterus, but as it passes through the birth canal, it may come in contact with open sores and also become infected. If you have herpes, your doctor may elect to deliver your baby via cesarean section so that it will not have to pass through the birth canal.
At-Home Treatment of Herpes
If you experience an outbreak, you may treat yourself in the following ways in order to maintain comfort and relief:
- Take ibuprofen, acetaminophen or aspirin for pain
- Apply cool compresses to the affected area
- Soak in a warm bath. If a woman is experiencing pain upon urination, she may urinate at the end of her bath in order to dilute the urine and protect the sores.
- Keep affected area clean and dry.
- Wear cotton underwear.
- Wear loose-fitting clothes.
A herpes flare-up can occur any time, and certain triggers such as stress, fatigue or trauma may be responsible for setting one off. A person may experience recurrence once a year or on a continual basis. Symptoms tend to be milder after the initial outbreak.
Sex and Herpes
It is never safe to engage in unprotected sex if you have been infected with herpes, or have had sex with someone who does. In order not to further spread the infection, it is imperative that you tell your partner you have herpes.
Avoid having sex if you have any visible sores as herpes is easily spread at that time. Another important reason to avoid intercourse while sores are present is because it increases your susceptibility for acquiring HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
It is quite normal to experience feelings of guilt or shame once you have been diagnosed with herpes. You may feel dirty, or like no one will ever find you desirable again. You may feel betrayed by the person who infected you. You may feel alone, but you are not. In fact, millions of Americans have herpes. Let the herpes infection end with you: Protect your partner by always using a condom during sexual intercourse.