Yikes! Genital herpes isn’t pretty. Let’s find out how to cope with this lifelong condition.
Genital herpes — yes, we know that it's not a pleasant topic and the very thought of it brings on mild panic at best. But when it comes to STDs, ignorance is not bliss, so let’s tackle it.
What are genital herpes?
Genital herpes is an STD caused by the herpes simplex virus or HSV. There are 2 types — HSV1 and HSV2. The medical community in Singapore and the world at large used to believe that genital herpes was caused by HSV Type 2 only. However, more research in recent years has revealed that genital herpes can be caused by both types.
The virus makes its way into your body via all kinds of sexual contact. Here’s a piece of news you probably don’t wish to hear: once you contract genital herpes, you are stuck with it for life. The virus never leaves your body and buries itself in your nervous system. It may remain dormant, but at times you will experience flares which could happen several times a year.
What are the symptoms of genital herpes?
Genital herpes is pretty hard to miss. You usually get blisters in your genital area, and when they show up, it's called an outbreak. Your first outbreak can show up anywhere between 3 days to 1 month after you come into contact with the virus.
Guys can expect the following symptoms:
- Small sores or blisters on your genitals. They are red and painful and can also show up on your inner thighs and anus
- You may experience a burning or tingly sensation right before the blister appears
- Swollen lymph glands
- Painful urination
- Fever, headaches, and body pains
As for when your symptoms will start, you never really know and varies from person to person. It may take weeks, months, or even years before you get your first outbreak after contracting the virus.
The following are common triggers of genital herpes:
- Lack of sleep
- An immune system that is weakened in some way.
- UV light
- Wearing clothing that is too tight in the genital area.
- Sickness like maybe the flu
These triggers usually cause you to experience symptoms.
What to expect during my doctor's consultation in Singapore?
Your doctor will ask you questions to get a sense of your medical history and your sexual activity. So yes, expect the questions to be personal.
This will be followed up by an examination of your blisters and sores. If your lesions are not straightforward, your doctor may do some lab tests to make a final assessment.
What tests are used to diagnose genital herpes?
There are 2 methods to diagnose genital herpes:
- Blood test
- Swab test where fluid is taken from the blisters or ulcers — if you have genital herpes, the DNA of the virus would be present in the sample.
How should I prepare for my test?
You don't need to do anything before your test, but do not apply any cream or powder to the affected area a day before your appointment.
Does the test hurt?
Well, Herpes ulcers and blisters are painful. So, getting the sample might be a bit uncomfortable.
Can genital herpes go away?
So, to manage expectations, I’ll just put it out there — there is no cure for genital herpes. However, you can definitely manage it.
There are medical treatments that can minimize the severity of your outbreak and also how long your blisters and ulcers last. The fact is the herpes simplex virus remains active in your body for life, and symptoms usually appear when your immune system is not in tip-top shape — so the best thing you can do is to take care of yourself.
If you experience more than 6 outbreaks a year and it is affecting your quality of life, you can speak to your doctor about longer-term antiviral drugs that can suppress the virus. Daily medication can also help reduce the risk of transmitting the disease to your partner.
What self-care steps can I take if I have genital herpes?
There are a few things you can do to be proactive regarding your illness. These include:
- Always wash your hands properly when dealing with the affected area. Wash before, so you don't introduce unwanted bacteria to your lesions, and after to eliminate potential transmission.
- Keep your blisters clean to prevent infection.
- Wear loose clothing over the affected area.
- If your blisters are really painful you should consider numbing creams like lidocaine gel or Vaseline for relief.
- No picking or touching!
You can also help your female partner cope
If your female partner is expecting, her obstetrician will advise regarding the best treatment option for mom and baby. This is because pregnant women can pass on the herpes simplex virus to the fetus. When this happens, it is called neonatal herpes and it can be fatal.
A C-section may be done if your partner is experiencing an outbreak when it is time for the baby to be born. This can reduce the risk of transmission to your baby.
Is Herpes life-threatening?
While herpes can be uncomfortable and generally unpleasant, it will not kill you. However, the herpes simplex virus can cause serious health complications in HIV or immunocompromised patients.
How can I get rid of herpes fast?
Anti-viral meds usually reduce the number of days that the ulcers and blisters last. Topical creams can stave off any secondary infection.
What should I do when I get my herpes diagnosis?
Your first step would be to speak to your doctor to discuss your condition treatment options. Next, you need to let your sexual partners know so that they can get tested, and the risks involved.
You will also need to always wear a condom when you have sex to lower the risk of transmitting the disease to your sexual partners. You may notice I said lower the risk — that's because condoms do not eliminate the risk altogether, and herpes is more contagious when you have sores and ulcers.
Is Herpes simplex more prevalent among men or women?
According to statistics from the US CDC, more women have HSV infections than men. Apparently, it's easier to spread the disease from men to women instead of the other way around.
There’s no doubt about it — genital herpes is a frustrating disease that has the added fear factor of being incurable. If you have genital herpes, I recommend that you focus on getting information and getting the best treatment so that you can live your life to the fullest.
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This article was written and medically reviewed by Dr Ben, M.D on 20/06/21