Signs and Symptoms of Herpes Infection
Most individuals who are infected with HSV 1 or 2 have minimal or no symptoms with the virus as the virus is dormant in their body. Others present with active infection 2 to 7 days after exposure, which is characterised by blisters around the genitalia and/or rectum. Other symptoms include:
- Itching or tingling sensation around the genital areas;
- Pain when passing urine (usually over the open sores), most commonly in women
- Flu-like symptoms and swollen lymph nodes or fever
The blisters often break, leaving tender ulcers/sores that take as long as a month to heal. After the blisters heal, the infection is by no means cured and can recur again, weeks or months later.
However, subsequent outbreaks are often less severe than the initial episode. Over time, the number of outbreaks get less often.
The herpes virus however, stays in the body indefinitely and while medications can be used to control outbreaks, there is no definitive cure for the infection.
How can I get the disease?
Genital herpes is acquired through skin contact with infected partners usually during sexual intercourse. It is most infectious when lesions appear on the skin during an outbreak. Even when there are no visible symptoms, there is still a risk that the virus is being transmitted through physical contact.
How can Herpes infection be detected?
Signs and symptoms of a herpes infection vary greatly. In most cases of active infection, a visual inspection is usually sufficient. However, to confirm the infection, the following needs to be done:
- A clinical examination will be done on the genital area
- A sample will be taken from the sores using a swab or cotton bud
- Women may need to be examined internally (pelvin exam)
- A urine sample may or may not be taken
If symptoms have already disappeared, or if the patient is asymptomatic, a blood test will need to be taken to look for the virus. This blood test looks for antibodies to the HSV 1 or 2 virus which usually will appear 3 months after infection. However, results from such blood tests are not clear cut and cannot differentiate between active infection or a previous infection which is currently inactive.
Can Herpes be treated?
There is no treatment that can cure HSV 1 or HSV 2 infection. However, the severity of the outbreak can be controlled using antiviral medications. In addition, medications can be given to control the symptoms e.g. pain etc.
In some patients, they may experience recurrences of the infection. If the recurrences are very frequent, antiviral medications to suppress the virus may need to be taken for a prolonged period of time.
How can Herpes be Prevented?
Any skin contact can potentially transmit the infection even if there is no obvious signs and symptoms of active infection. However, if sexual intercourse is avoided if there are active sores/ulcers, transmission of infection can be avoided. Unfortunately, barrier methods of contraception, e.g. condoms, only offer limited protection against herpes virus.
The best method of prevention is to treat the outbreak of herpes promptly and early so it does not transmit from partner to partner. In addition, certain patients may want to consider suppressive therapy even if they have got no symptoms to reduce transmission to their partners.
Complications of Herpes Infections
Individuals who are stressed can be afflicted with more episodes of herpes infection including patients with a suppressed immunity e.g. concurrent HIV infection. Due to the lesions that the infection causes, herpes increases the likelihood of HIV transmission by more than 3 times as it facilitates the entry of the HIV virus.Click here for New Information on Herpes
Herpes also post a special risk for women who are pregnant. Although herpes does not affect the
women’s fertility, it increases the risk of miscarriage especially in the first 3 months of pregnancy.
The baby also has a risk of being infected. If the mother is infected in the later stages of her
pregnancy, there is a risk of premature delivery.
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