According to a study recently released by the World Health Organization, 2/3 of the globe's population below fifty years have herpes after contracting the virus as a minor. The term "herpes" conjures different perceptions of different people. While some perceive the virus as annoying blisters or cold sores that periodically appear, others see it as a sexually transmitted infection that you must endure throughout your lifetime after infection. Both perceptions are correct. However, medically speaking, the virus is also applied to other afflictions. The experienced gynecologists at All Women's Care, serving patients throughout Los Angeles, offer confidential, discreet consultations, diagnosis, and management advice that prioritize your health and your sexual partner.
Overview of Herpes
Herpes is a common infection which many people can get. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least one out of six persons aged between fourteen and forty-nine years have genital herpes. After its initial infection, the virus stays dormant in the body and can reactivate many times a year. Therefore, chances are most people don't know that they have herpes.
The STI is mainly spread through skin-to-skin contact with the infected regions, during oral sex, kissing, anal sex, or vaginal sex. It leads to outbreaks of painful and itchy sores or blisters that recur. Therefore, most patients mistake the sores for another thing or do not notice them.
There is no cure for the condition. However, medication could manage symptoms and reduce the chances of spreading the virus. Also, outbreaks become less common with time. While the condition could take time to be painful and uncomfortable, it is not dangerous. Patients have sex, relationships, and live healthy lives.
The following types of herpes simplex virus infections cause herpes:
- HSV-1: Usually, this type causes fever blisters and cold sores around the patient's mouth. It can be spread through skin-to-skin contact or to your genital area during oral sex. Recurrence is less frequent compared to the HSV-2 infection.
- HSV-2: Normally, the virus spreads through skin-to-skin contact and sexual intercourse. It is very contagious, regardless of whether you have an open sore or not.
Understanding the Difference Between Oral Herpes and Genital Herpes
Since the two types of herpes simplex viruses can live on different body parts, most people are confused about what causes what—usually, HSV-1 and HSV-2 cause oral herpes and genital herpes, respectively.
While every strain loves living in their favorite region, all the types of the virus can infect either region. For instance, you could get infected with HSV-1 on the genitals if you engaged in oral sex with a person with a cold sore on their lips.
How Can You Get Infected?
As previously stated, herpes is spread through skin-to-skin contact with a person with the STI virus. You could be infected when your mouth or genitals touches their mouth or genitals during sex.
It is worth noting that the STI could be spread even when the tongue or penis does not go all the way into the mouth, anus, or vagina. Moreover, you do not have to cum to spread or get infected.
Commonly infected areas include on the skin on the mouth, genitals skin, and eyes. Other skin areas get infected if there is a way for the virus to get in. It can through a sore, rash, or cut.
Sometimes the virus is spread through non-sexual methods. Most people with oral herpes got it when they were children if parents with cold sores gave them a peck on their lips. Additionally, a mother could pass the virus to their baby during delivery, but it is rare.
You could also spread the virus to other body parts should you touch a sore and later touch your eyes, genitals, or mouth without washing your hands. You can spread herpes to another person this way.
Although the STI could shed and spread to other people when you don't have sores and the skin looks healthy, the virus is most contagious when your sores are wet and open.
Since the virus dies when outside human bodies, you cannot get the herpes virus from holding hands, hugging, sneezing, coughing, towels, toilet seats, and objects used by an infected individual.
What are the Risk Factors?
The risk of getting infected with herpes could be increased if you:
Have multiple sex partners: Every additional sex partner increases the likelihood of being exposed to the virus.
A woman is at an increased risk of having genital herpes compared to a man. It is because the virus is transmitted more quickly from a man to a woman than it's from a woman to a man.
What are the Symptoms of Herpes?
Neither you nor your partner could have symptoms that you can feel or see. It is because the signs and symptoms could be mild for you to see them. Sometimes persons confuse symptoms with things such as ingrown hairs, flu, and pimples.
Although the symptoms recur, that does not imply that the infection will go away or cannot be spread to your sexual partners.
Genital Herpes Signs and Symptoms
Common symptoms of this type of herpes are painful and itchy blisters on the thighs, butts, anus, cervix, vagina, or vulva. Your blisters break and then become sores.
You may also experience the following symptoms:
- Burning sensation when peeing
- Challenges while peeing because the swelling and sores are blocking the urethra
- Pain around the genitals
- Swollen glands under the arms and in the throat and pelvic area
- Fatigue and feeling achy
- Run-down feeling
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Oral Herpes?
Oral herpes causes sores (fever blisters or cold sores) around and in the mouth or lips. The ulcers last for a couple of weeks and go away on their own. They can recur after weeks, months, or even years.
Understanding the Different Stages of Herpes
After you've been infected, the virus will undergo the following stages:
When herpes signs and symptoms appear, it is known as an outbreak. Also referred to as initial herpes or first episode, the first outbreak begins about two or twenty days following the infection. However, it can sometimes take many years for the initial episode to occur.
Typically, this outbreak lasts for two to four weeks. The virus causes painful, tiny blisters. While the fluid in your blisters can be cloudy or clear, the region under the blister is red. These blisters later open, becoming open sores. During the initial stage, you will feel pain while urinating.
You will not see or notice symptoms in this stage. However, the virus is moving from the skin to the nerves close to the spine.
During this phase, the virus begins to multiply in your nerve endings. If the nerve endings are in body areas that make or in contact with body fluids, the virus gets into the body fluids. It could be vaginal fluids or saliva. Although there are no signs and symptoms, the virus could be transmitted from one person to another.
It is common for the outbreak to recur, particularly during the first year you've herpes. You could notice warning signs and symptoms a couple of hours or days before the outbreaks, such as tingly feeling, burning, or itching on the genitals. Having menstrual periods or basking in the sun might cause a recurrence.
The outbreaks are painful, but the first episode is the most painful. Usually, the recurring outbreaks are less painful and shorter.
Typically, herpes causes visible sores. It could also occasionally cause severe complications that affect other body parts.
Herpes complications are more likely to happen in the situations below:
- When a baby is born with herpes (infected during delivery): They have signs and symptoms like ulcers on the genitals, body, and face.
- When a patient suffers from cancer or HIV
It takes place when the virus spreads from the initial infection area. In severe cases, the virus could spread to other body parts like your brain.
Ocular herpes is a rare complication that affects the eyes. It is common among infants infected during delivery. It could cause painful sores on the eye or the eyelid.
Its symptoms include:
- Pain around and in the eye
- Redness, sores, and rashes on your eyes, forehead or eyelids
- Eye redness
- Light sensitivity
- Blurred vision
- Cornea cloudiness and swelling
It is a severe brain infection that causes cognitive challenges in adults and developmental delays in children.
Loss of Hearing
Herpes has been linked with a sudden loss of hearing in both adults and children. The complication happens when the virus affects the nerves that regulate hearing.
How Herpes is Diagnosed
Both HSV-1 and HSV-2 can be diagnosed based on the lesions' appearance and lab tests.
Herpes virus can cause visible skin lesions. Since the lesions can be due to other illnesses, it is essential to consult with a medical expert, particularly if you have never experienced an outbreak before.
Herpes Laboratory Tests
If you've herpes symptoms, your physician could diagnose the infection by swapping your open sores to examine for proof of the virus or by looking at the skin. If your symptoms are not apparent, blood tests could assist tell whether you are infected.
The standard for diagnosis is a nucleic acid amplification test or viral culture test of the samples of your lesion fluids, crust, or skin acquired from the area's swab.
A viral culture permits the herpes virus to grow in the lab. On the other hand, the NAT test checks for the virus's general material in the samples. The tests ought not to be positive unless you are infected. Generally, the test results are reliable.
With a blood test, you can screen an asymptomatic herpes infection; the test searches for antibodies to the virus.
Your body forms antibodies when required to fight the infection. Antibodies could last for many years. It takes approximately two (2) weeks for the body to make antibodies against the infection.
If the infection recurs, an antibody test is not useful because after the patient has the antibodies, they remain in the blood even if the herpes virus is dormant.
Typically, there are 2 categories of herpes blood tests, namely:
- Type-specific herpes blood test: It searches whether your body has formed antibodies and which herpes strain your antibodies are against. The test does not tell where the infection is.
- General herpes blood test: It searches for whether you've antibodies for either type.
Usually, it takes two (2) weeks for herpes symptoms to manifest after the infection. If you don't have lesions that could be tested with a swab, it is wise to wait for a couple of months before getting tested. It's because it takes time for the body to form antibodies that are detectable in your blood. That means testing before the antibodies are made could result in false-negative results.
Herpes Diagnosis in a Newborn Baby
Diagnosing herpes in children is complicated. Children aren't screened for the infection. In other words, only symptoms should alert the parent that all is not okay. It should prompt a diagnosis that could be done with a swab sample. Nevertheless, a complicated herpes infection calls for specific tests like a lumbar puncture.
What are the Differential Diagnoses?
Other medical conditions could be confused with genital herpes or cold sores. The conditions are severe, and it is wise to consult with a medical expert. Herpes could be distinguished from these conditions with a lab test or medical exam.
- Medical reactions: Medication might lead to sensitive reactions and allergies that could appear as rashes. Although medication-induced rashes do not appear in the genital area, they are common around the patient's mouth and lips.
- Concurrent HSV-2 or HSV-1: If the patient has either type of herpes, they could also be infected with the other. The viruses are different, and having one does not prevent or cause the other.
- Pre-cancer or Cancer: Lesions around and in your genital area could be symptoms of cancer. The appearance of precancerous or cancerous shouldn't have blisters that come with HSV lesions. However, your doctor should be able to tell the difference.
- Syphilis: Syphilis is an STD that manifests in genital sores that could be confused with herpes. Your OBGYN should be capable of telling the difference through visual lesions inspection.
- Canker sores: Usually, canker sores are red, raw, painful, and whitish in the middle. They are due to oral trauma and can appear in the mouth. While the painful sensation of cold sores and canker sores is alike, a lesion looks different.
Even though there is no cure for the STI, there are numerous ways to manage the symptoms and infection. They include:
These are things you could do at home to prevent your lesions from becoming worse, stop the recurrence stage, and reduce pain.
- Use a cold compress: Put an ice pack on the lesion until you feel better. Although the cold might not affect your lesion, it will reduce pain.
- Avoid scratching or touching the lesions because they can spread to other regions.
- Ensure your sores are clean: Genital herpes and cold sores could get infected with bacteria from feces, urine, or hands. Therefore, it is essential to ensure the blisters and sores are dry and clean to prevent additional infections.
- Avoid stress: Stress interferes with the immune system. Effective stress management also prevents constant herpes recurrences.
Over-the-counter therapy creams could assist reduce pain and manage other symptoms of the infection. Here are therapies you may want to consider:
- Abreva: Also known as docosanol, Abreva is a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved drug for herpes that you might obtain with no prescription. The antiviral medication inhibits the virus' ability to increase in your body. It is in the form of a cream that the patient applies to the affected areas every three hours. Your mouth, vagina, or eyes should not get into contact with the cream. Ensure you wash your hands thoroughly after and before use.
- Oral painkillers: Medications like ibuprofen, naproxen, and acetaminophen can aid relieve pain.
- Pain-relieving creams and lotions: The creams and lotions ease discomfort. There are several over-the-counter choices. Therefore, it is wise to check with your OBGYN the best product. Remember to clean your hands after and before applying your cream or lotion.
In most cases, prescriptions apply to genital herpes cases. The prescriptions are antiviral medication, and they inhibit virus proliferation.
If you experience the initial outbreak or recurrence, either of the following medication should help you:
- Famvir (famciclovir)
- Valtrex (valacyclovir)
If you experience constant recurrences, you might want to take either of the above medications daily for a while (suppressive therapy).
Taking medications when you don't have signs and symptoms can reduce the possibility of transmitting the virus to your sexual partner.
Generally, prescription medication isn't recommended for expectant mothers or children below one year.
Alternative herpes therapies with supporting studies include:
- Propolis: Propolis is a sticky substance produced by bees from tree saps. According to a study conducted by Sapna Modi, Livia Van, and Aron Gewirtzman etl., patients treated with propolis have lesions heal faster and have an increased possibility of full lesions recovered by day ten of treatment.
- Algae extracts in lab settings have proved to stop HSV-2 growth.
- Acupuncture: It has been used for many years to manage pain that comes with lesions. However, the management option should be considered with caution because it has been linked with HSV transmission.
There have been numerous promising vaccine trials. Nevertheless, currently, no study has proved high adequate efficacy to bring a vaccine to the market.
How to Prevent Herpes
Since herpes is commonly spread from sexual contact with an infected person, the most effective prevention method is abstinence.
However, many people engage in sex at some point in their lives. Therefore, having safe sex is essential. You can use protection, such as dental dams or condoms. Make sure you use protection even when you don't have symptoms or sores.
Herpes is also found on body areas not protected by condoms like labia, butt cheeks, and upper thighs. Do not engage in sexual contact during an outbreak.
How to Tell Your Partner About the Herpes
Most people feel that their love lives are over once they discover they have herpes. Well, that is not the truth. Herpes patients have romantic relationships with one another or with persons without the STI.
Having conversations about STDs is not fun, but it is essential to tell your partner if you are infected. That way, you might prevent the condition from spreading.
Here are practical tips that might help to talk about it:
- Remain calm: Having the STI is a health condition and does not mean you are promiscuous. Therefore, go into the conversation with a positive and relaxed attitude. You can start the conversation by asking your partner if they have even had or been tested before.
- Know the facts: Be sure to read all the facts. It will help you let your sexual partner know there are methods to manage the condition and prevent transmission.
- Timing: Choose a time when you will not be interrupted or distracted and in a private place. If you are anxious, you can first talk through your friend or practice speaking in front of a mirror. It helps you know what you are confident in saying.
- If you think your partner might injure you, you can tell them using a phone call, text message, or email.
What You Need to Know Herpes and Pregnancy
If you have herpes and are expectant, it's wise to go to prenatal care visits. Tell the physician if you have ever had genital herpes or have ever been exposed to the STD. According to the CDC, the virus can result in a miscarriage or increase your likelihood of early delivery.
The virus can be transmitted to your baby before birth, but it is more common during vaginal delivery. If you are already infected, your doctor might offer you anti-herpes medication at the end of the pregnancy. During delivery, any experienced medical practitioner should examine you for sores, among other symptoms. If you've symptoms at childbirth, you will undergo a cesarean section.
Find an Experienced OB-GYN Near Me
As previously mentioned, most people living with herpes don't realize that they have the virus. The virus is classified into two: herpes simplex virus type 2 and herpes simplex virus type 1. It is transmitted by sexual contact, contact with infected saliva, or mouth-to-mouth contact. While the symptoms come and go, these types of herpes are incurable and contagious. Also, the virus does not always show symptoms, so getting tested is essential. The qualified gynecologists at All Women's Care in Los Angeles can test you and assist you in managing the virus. To learn more about herpes and how we can help you, call us today at 213-250-9461.