Genital herpes is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections. It is typically caused by herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). It can also be caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), which is most well known as the cause of oral herpes or “cold sores”. HSV-1 as a cause of genital herpes is thought to be correlated to an increase in oral sex practices. Many people transmit the virus to another person when they don’t have any symptoms, some may not even know they are carrying the virus.
The first time a woman or man gets a genital herpes infection their symptoms may include painful genital ulcers, pain with urination, fever, tender swollen lymph nodes in the groin, and headache. After exposure to the virus it takes on average about 4 days for symptoms to show up. It takes typically close to 3 weeks for the lesions to completely resolve. Once you have had your first episode of infection you can expect to get recurrent outbreaks, but they don’t tend to be as severe as the first infection. Recurrent infection is more common with HSV-2 than HSV-1. Women who are pregnant could pass the infection to the baby which could lead to birth defects, miscarriage, premature birth, or severe infection of the baby’s eyes, skin, brain, or internal organs.
Testing can be done by swabbing an active ulcer or if you don’t have symptoms blood testing can be performed. There is no cure for herpes, but sometimes antiviral medication can help prevent outbreaks or reduce the severity and length of time of an outbreak.
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