Why is this symptom of genital herpes so dangerous?

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You need to know this
Words by Jadie Troy-Pryde

With everything from smart condoms to sexual partner calculators being created to make us more aware of the STIs that are potentially on offer every time we get a new bed partner, it’s more important than ever that we are vigilant when it comes to our sexual health. Team it with the fact that cases of syphilis are at an all time high in England, and the rather terrifying sounding super gonorrhoea broke-out in the UK earlier this year, and you’ll be reaching for a condom every time you get between the sheets.
While you might have read about the common pain associated with chlamydia, and the best way to treat pubic lice, the chances are that unless you’ve experienced it yourself you probably don’t know much about herpes. But after reading this, you’ll know everything you need to about the chronic condition.
What is genital herpes?
Genital herpes is a common infection that is often referred to as a sexually transmitted infection because it can be passed from one partner to another during intercourse. It can be painful for the individual as it causes blisters on the genitals as well as the thighs and surrounding areas. Genital herpes is a chronic condition, meaning that sufferers will have the virus in their bodies for the rest of their lives – although that doesn’t mean it will be consistently active. Once a person has been infected, they will find that the symptoms reoccur sporadically.
Over time, it is believed that the frequency and intensity of outbreaks decline, but in the first two years someone with genital herpes may experience a flare-up four to five times.
What are HSV1 and HSV2?
These are abbreviations of herpes simplex virus 1 and 2. They are two strains of the virus, both of which are highly contagious.
What causes genital herpes? Is it contagious?
Genital herpes is caused by both HSV1 and HSV2. It can be passed on from one person to another during vaginal, anal or oral sex, as when it is present on the skin the infection can be transferred easily from moist, warm places such as the skin around your genitals, mouth and anus. In some cases, it is also passed on through coming into contact with the eyes and skin, and if have oral sex with someone who has a cold sore (which is also caused by HSV).
While it is not possible to contract the infection through towels or cutlery, you could become infected if you share sex toys with someone who carries the virus. It is possible for the infected individual to pass genital herpes on to their sexual partner even if they have no visible outbreak.
What are the main genital herpes symptoms?
It is important to note that while there can be visible physical symptoms, often many people report no symptoms at all. In fact, the virus can lay dormant in your body and become triggered later on.
Upon contracting the infection for the first time, the individual may experience the following:
• blisters on and around your genitals, thighs and anus, and women can also get them on their cervix
• vaginal discharge, and pain when you wee
• flu-like symptoms leaving you feeling very unwell, achey and tired
Usually these will happen for around twenty days.
During an outbreak when the virus has returned, often symptoms include:
• a burn or itch around your genitals
• blisters on and around your genitals, thighs and anus, and women can also get them on their cervix
These tend not to last as long and may feel less intense. However, if you have genital herpes and are pregnant, there is a chance that it can be passed on to your baby. In some cases, neonatal herpes – whereby the herpes simplex virus is contracted by the baby at birth – can be fatal.
Is genital herpes curable?
While there is no cure for genital herpes, it is possible to find treatments that will lessen the severity of symptoms during an outbreak and decrease the chances of passing it on to a sexual partner.
What is the best genital herpes treatment?
If you have just contracted the virus, your treatment will be different compared to someone who has been living with it for a longer period and is experiencing an outbreak.
At first, you may be prescribed antiviral tablets like aciclovir which needs to be taken five times daily for about five days, depending on whether or not you have new blisters forming. If does not get rid of the infection completely, but it can stop HSV from multiplying. Side effects from the medication include sickness and headaches.
For a flare-up, your GP may suggest ways to ease your symptoms such as cleaning the blistered area with salt water to avoid infection, applying an ice pack or Vaseline to the area to speed healing, and to drink plenty of water.
What does genital herpes feel like?
It can be very painful and uncomfortable during an outbreak, and many are left feeling weak, tired and sick much like they would if they had a severe case of the flu. The most common feeling is an itching, burning sensation around the genitals, paired with sore, red blisters.
What is the difference between genital herpes and oral herpes?
While HSV1 can cause genital herpes, it is usually responsible for oral herpes – also known as cold sores, blistered skin around the mouth and lips. Genital herpes is generally caused by HSV2 when the infection is on the skin and is passed on through contact with moist, warm skin. The most obvious difference is where the herpes is, however someone with oral herpes can pass on the virus during oral sex.
The safest way to protect yourself from contracting the virus is to use condoms and ensure that you and your partner get sexual health checks regularly.

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