Becky Yoza, DNP
Becky has 14 years combined experience in medical/surgical and emergency nursing. She also teaches undergraduate and graduate nursing at Hawaii Pacific University. Originally a sociologist, Becky trained as a nurse to gain knowledge for her research, but she ended up loving nursing so much she never went back! Born and raised in Michigan, Becky has lived in Hawaii since 2010 and never wants to leave.
Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease (STD). It causes sores to develop in the genital area. The sores are tiny painful blisters that can burst open and ooze fluid. Two types of the herpes virus exist. First is HSV-1, which usually causes cold sores. Second is HSV-2, which usually causes genital herpes. There are genital herpes treatment options available.
80% of those affected by the condition are unaware that they have it. The infection is almost always sexually transmitted. There are a variety of genital herpes treatment options which are discussed in this article.
Herpes can be a silent disease. A person may not know when they’ve contracted the virus. This is because symptoms do not always show. After contracting the STD, the virus can be dormant or “sleeping” in the body. It can recur “or wake up” from time to time if the infection was in the genitals. An infected person with the herpes virus can spread the STD to another person during sexual intercourse. They can spread it even if symptoms are not visible.
In some cases, the symptoms last a short period and go away in a few days. Our individual immune systems are unique. It is unclear why the condition manifests differently in people.
Early signs of genital herpes
The common visible signs of infection include, for example:
- Mild fever, generally feeling unwell, pains and aches.
- Small, painful blisters develop around your genitals and anus.
- The blisters erupt in crops over 7-14 days and burst into sore ulcers.
- Painful to pass urine (more so in women).
- Swelling of glands in one’s groin area may feel like lumps.
- Vaginal discharge could occur in some women.
- Blisters and ulcers may also develop on the cervix in women. Also, they may even develop inside the anus as well.
- They may last between 10 and 28 days in women. Furthermore, they usually heal without leaving behind scars.
Recurring episodes of symptoms
- Recurrence may happen in some people but tends to be less aggressive over time.
- The symptoms last for a shorter time than the first episode.
- Usually, there is no fever or feeling of being unwell during a recurrence.
- If you feel itchy around your genitals for longer than 12 hours, it is probably the onset of a recurrence.
- Most persons with the conditions have between 1 to 4 episodes of recurrences in a given year.
Factors which trigger the onset of a recurrence
There are factors that can trigger the onset of a recurrence. For instance:
- Physical illness
- Excessive exposure to sunlight
- Excessive consumption of alcohol
- Prolonged stress
Most often, the infection passes on by engaging in sex. This includes, for instance, vaginal, oral or anal sex. It can also spread by being in close contact with the genitals of an infected person as well. Furthermore, genital herpes may also enter cracked skin anywhere on the body too. As a result, it causes infections of other parts. For example hands, fingers or knees. Whitlow is the condition when infection spreads to the fingers.
A genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic is capable of treating all types of herpes in patients. They can swab the blister in the lab. This will identify the exact strain of the virus. Consult your gynecologist or general physician if bouts of herpes are recurrent.
Genital herpes treatment options
There are a variety of genital herpes treatment options. For instance:
Antiviral medication for the first episode of genital herpes
The first episode of genital herpes is called the primary episode. This is typically treated with 5-day antiviral treatment. The duration of the treatment may be extended by a few days. Depending on if there are new blisters forming. Typically, during the primary episode, blisters may last between 10 and 28 days. Taking the right medication may help control the spread of the virus. It may also reduce the severity of the symptoms as well.
The treatment of viral diseases or infections lies in curing the symptoms. It also relies on the body’s immune system to heal itself. The measures mentioned below help to ease symptoms when they occur. Measures such as:
- Ibuprofen or paracetamol can help manage pain.
- If passing urine is painful, it may help to have water flowing over the vulva or penis while urinating.
- Lidocaine 5% is a numbing gel that you can buy at a pharmacy. This helps in relieving itching or pain to a great degree. You can even apply it to the area 5 minutes before passing urine. Vaseline petroleum jelly can be applied in case lidocaine is not available.
- Ice Packs may be used to help ease pain and cool the area.
- Drinking lots of water reduces the concentration of your urine. In turn, it reduces pain.
- Avoid using bubble bath, scented soaps, etc.
- Gently clean the sores with cotton dipped in saltwater.
- Use a hairdryer on the lowest setting to dry the blisters out.
- Do not engage in sex until you have healed completely and the sores have disappeared or your doctor has approved.
There are three most commonly used medicine to treat genital herpes. They are Acyclovir, Famciclovir, and Valacyclovir. These medications work by preventing the multiplication of the virus. They also reduce the severity of the infection. Also, they reduce the duration of the infection as well. In episodes where the condition recurs, antiviral medication may not be required. Manage it by the use of lidocaine gel, salt baths, and painkillers.
Side-effects of antiviral medicines
Most antiviral medications do not cause serious side effects. However, some minor ones may occur. Side effects such as vomiting, nausea, and abdominal pain. Photo sensitivity, itching or rashes are also side effects too. Always read the leaflet that comes with any medicine. This is to understand the complete list of possible side effects.
For pregnant women
Speak to a doctor if you are pregnant and suspect you may have genital herpes. There is a risk of passing it on to the baby. The risk of passing on the infection to the baby is highest if you develop the first episode of genital herpes during the first 6 weeks of the pregnancy. The risk is also high the last few weeks before delivering the baby. There is a 4 in 10 chance of passing on the infection to the baby in case of a normal vaginal delivery. Your doctor may recommend a cesarean section delivery in such cases. However, if you still choose to have a vaginal delivery, your doctor is likely to recommend intravenous antiviral medicine. This will be given during labor and childbirth for you. It will be given to the child soon after birth.
While there is no vaccine for herpes yet, there are many measures you can take to reduce the risk of contracting the disease. Measures such as:
- Always use condoms while having sex with an infected partner. A dormant virus can be present in the body for long periods of time.
- Avoid having too many sexual partners. This increases the chances of catching a sexually transmitted disease, including genital herpes.
- If you or your partner have visible blisters or genital sores, avoid having sex. Avoid it until the condition has gone away completely.
- If a person has cold sores, avoid physical contact with them such as kissing.
- Children and old people with low immunity should be kept away from infected persons.
- Suppressive treatment of taking antiviral medication for long periods of time to prevent recurrences also mitigates the risk of passing it on to others.
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