DEFINITION--A virus infection of the genitals transmitted by sexual relations
(intercourse or oral sex).
BODY PARTS INVOLVED--Penis; vagina; cervix; thighs; buttocks (sometimes).
SEX OR AGE MOST AFFECTED--Both sexes and all ages of sexually active persons.
SIGNS & SYMPTOMS
- Painful blisters, preceded by itching and irritation, on the vaginal lips or penis. In
women, the blisters may extend into the vagina to the cervix and urethra. After a few
days, the blisters rupture and leave painful, shallow ulcers which last 1 to 3 weeks.
- Difficult, painful urination.
- Enlarged lymph glands (sometimes).
- Fever and a general ill feeling (sometimes).
- Herpes type 2 virus (HSV-2). Genital herpes is typically caused by Herpes type 2 virus
(HSV-2). Oral herpes is typically caused by Herpes type 1 virus (HSV-1). However, both
types can be contracted in either location, and both will look, feel, and act the same.
herpes is often spread while a partner has an active herpes lesion. Lesions may be on the
genitals, hands, lips or mouth. Herpes can also be spread during the beginning phase of an
outbreak, when there's a tingling or itching feeling below the skin, or when the virus
sheds itself on the skin, and there are no symptoms of the disease at all.
RISK INCREASES WITH
- Serious illness that has lowered resistance.
- Use of immunosuppressive or anticancer drugs.
- Stress may lead to diminished efficiency of the immune responses that usually suppress
growth of the virus.
- Other "triggers" that can cause a recurrence include genital trauma,
menstruation, sunbathing and infection of some other type.
HOW TO PREVENT
- Avoid sexual intercourse if either partner has blisters or sores.
- Use a latex condom during intercourse if either sex partner has inactive genital herpes.
- Avoid oral sex with a partner who has cold sores on the mouth.
- If you are pregnant, tell your doctor if you have had herpes or any genital lesions in
the past. Precautions should be taken to prevent infection of the baby.
What To Expect
- Your own observation of symptoms.
- Medical history and exam by a doctor.
- Laboratory study of fluid from the lesion (sometimes).
APPROPRIATE HEALTH CARE
- Self-care after diagnosis.
- Doctor's treatment.
- Generalized disease and death in persons who must take anticancer drugs or
- Transmittal of life-threatening systemic herpes to a newborn infant from an infected
- Secondary bacterial infection.
- Genital herpes may increase the risk of cervical cancer.
PROBABLE OUTCOME--Genital herpes is currently considered incurable, but symptoms
can be relieved with treatment. During symptom-free periods, the virus returns to its
dormant state. Symptoms recur when the virus is reactivated. Recurrent symptoms are not
new infections. The discomfort varies from person to person and from time to time in the
same person. The first herpes infection is often much more uncomfortable than following
How To Treat
- Women should wear cotton underpants or pantyhose with a cotton crotch.
- To reduce pain during urination, women may urinate in a shower or through a tubular
device, such as a toilet-paper roll or plastic cup with the end cut out or pour a cup of
warm water over genitals while urinating.
- Warm baths with a tablespoon of salt added can ease discomfort.
- Women should have an annual Pap smear and physical examination to rule out any
- Your doctor may prescribe acyclovir (an antiviral medication) in oral form for treatment
of initial episodes and management of recurrent genital herpes. For some patients, it may
be prescribed for prevention purposes. A topical form of acyclovir is available but is not
- You may use mild painkillers, such as acetaminophen.
- Avoid intercourse until symptoms disappear.
- Appropriate rest if symptoms are present.
DIET--No special diet.
Call Your Doctor If
- Symptoms don't improve in 1 week, despite treatment.
- Unusual vaginal bleeding or swelling occurs.
- Fever returns during treatment or you become generally ill.