Early symptoms of genital herpes

Genital herpes

I don't want to hit a sore spot, but can we talk about the early symptoms of genital herpes? As a matter of fact, many people who are infected with the herpes simplex viruses type 1 or 2 are asymptomatic; that is they show no symptoms at all; or, if they do, the symptoms are so mild that they are not noticed, or are mistaken for a different skin condition. More than 80% of infected people do not know they have herpes, which is a problem because people with this sexually transmitted infection may be contagious whether or not they have any visible sores or ulcers. When vesicles do appear on or around the genitals, rectum or mouth -which break and leave painful ulcers- the person is said to be having an outbreak.

Other warning signs of genital herpes include:

  •  An itching or burning feeling in the genital or anal area.
  • Flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, and muscle aches.
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the groin.
  • Swollen glands.
  • Pain in the legs, buttocks, or genital area.
  • Vaginal discharge.
  • A feeling of pressure in the area below the abdomen.

Herpes has an average incubation period of 4 days, and the first outbreak usually occurs within two weeks of being exposed. Small red bumps or white blisters may appear in the vaginal area, external genitals, buttocks, anus or cervix of women, and on the penis, scrotum, buttocks, anus or thighs or inside the urethra, the channel inside the penis leading to the bladder in men, as well as on the mouth in both men and women. These blisters may rupture and become bleeding, oozing, painful open sores. The outbreak typically ends when the ulcers heal without scarring, though there may be a second crop accompanied by more flu-like symptoms. While the sores are in effect, urination may be painful, and there may be pain and tenderness in the genitals until the infection recedes.

Even though herpes is an STI, intercourse is not necessary to transmit it. Genital herpes can be spread by means of:

  • Genital-genital or genital-oral contact.
  • Contact with open sores.
  • Contact with mucosal surfaces, genital secretions, or oral secretions.

Additionally, herpes simplex viruses can be shed from normal-looking skin. On the other hand, you can’t get herpes from contact with toilets, towels, or other objects used by an infected individual, due to the fact that the virus cannot survive outside of the body.      

There is no cure for genital herpes, but outbreaks can be prevented or shortened with antiviral medications like Acyclovir, Famciclovir, and Valacyclovir. These drugs can help heal sores sooner, decrease the severity and duration of the early symptoms of genital herpes, and reduce the risk of transmitting the virus. However, even when treatment is successful, the virus still lies dormant in the body and may become active again. Stress, fatigue, illness, surgery and menstruation are thought to be factors that can trigger an outbreak. After an initial outbreak, people may have 4-5 new outbreaks during the first year, though some people only experience outbreaks once or twice. Each subsequent outbreak is typically shorter and less intense than the first one. While outbreaks tend to become infrequent over time, the virus passively endures and it may be transmitted even when there are no symptoms. This is why it’s important to be aware of certain risk groups and risk factors:

  • Women are more likely to get some STIs, including genital herpes, than men (20% of women between the ages of 14 to 49 have had herpes, as opposed 11% of men in the same age group).
  • The herpes simplex virus is more easily transmitted sexually from men to women than the other way around.
  • People who have multiple sexual partners have a higher risk of contracting genital herpes. 

The involuntary and inadvertent transmission of herpes can be prevented by observing certain practices such as:

  • Abstinence.
  • Monogamy.
  • Using condoms during sexual relations.

In addition to that, the risk of transmission during an outbreak can be decreased by:

  • Keeping the infected area clean and dry.
  •  Refraining from touching the ulcers.
  • Washing hands immediately after contact.
  • Avoiding sexual contact as soon as the first symptoms appear and until the ulcers have healed.

Passing the virus around would be bad enough, but herpes can have other complications for the infected person, including:

  • Other STIs including HIV/AIDS.
  • Bladder problems that could require the use of a catheter.
  • Meningitis
  • Rectal inflammation, also known as proctitis.

Pregnant women in particular should be very careful not to contract genital herpes. The infection can be passed from mother to child during pregnancy, especially during the first outbreak of herpes. Neonatal herpes is an infection that can cause the newborn to suffer brain damage, blindness, and death.

Despite that fact that genital herpes is incurable, that doesn’t mean it isn’t manageable, or that the infected person can’t have a satisfying sexual life. Communication between partners is essential to deal with a genital herpes diagnosis.

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