Herpes: What STD is it, and which symptoms do you look for? Here is everything you need to know



Genital herpes is caused by a virus called herpes simplex type 2 (HSV-2).

There are eight known types of herpes viruses, but probably the best known are Human Herpes Virus 1, 2 and 3, causing cold sores; lesions around the genital area; and chickenpox and shingles respectively.


Genital herpes is serious. Besides being humiliating and embarrassing, sores can infect other parts of the body if an infected person touches a genital sore and then another body part, e.g. the eyes. Infected women have a high risk of passing the disease to their babies, who can die from herpes. The biggest concern, however, is that herpes eventually weakens the immune system and puts victims at higher risk of diseases like meningitis, hepatitis, and other STIs, including Aids.


Genital herpes is spread by physical contact with an infected person. It is most commonly spread by sexual intercourse and oral sex, but it can be spread by any kind of skin-to-skin contact.

According to emedicinehealth, people may spread genital herpes even when they don’t know they are infected. Herpes can also be transmitted even when the disease seems to be inactive and there are no visible lesions.


The symptoms of genital herpes can vary greatly and it is best to have lesions of any kind tested. After being infected it can take days or even years before symptoms become apparent. The first outbreak can also be so mild as to pass virtually unnoticed.

Symptoms caused by primary infection and recurrent outbreaks:

Primary infection

Small blisters that burst, leaving open sores around the genitals, anus rectum, thighs and buttocks.
Blisters and ulcers on the cervix in women.
Vaginal discharge
Pain when urinating
General malaise with flu-like symptoms

Recurrent outbreaks

Symptoms of a recurrent outbreak are similar to the primary outbreak, but because your body now recognises the virus and mounts an immune response, they are usually shorter and less severe and may include:
Tingling, burning or itching around the genitals, and even down the leg preceding the appearance of blisters
Blisters that leave sores around the pelvic area
Some blistering and ulcers on the cervix
The symptoms of genital herpes usually take about a month to clear up.


Herpes is for life. Once you have herpes, you can’t ever get rid of it. (A blood test by a health professional will reveal if you are infected. Fluids taken from lesions can also be tested for the herpes virus.)
Even though symptoms disappear, the virus remains dormant in a nearby nerve. The virus may be reactivated from time to time, usually caused by some kind of stress, and travels back down the nerve to your skin, causing a new outbreak.


Herpes can be treated. Although herpes won’t disappear, there are medications that make outbreaks less severe. WebMD states that antiviral drugs can help sufferers of genital herpes stay symptom-free for longer and reduce the severity and duration of symptoms when they do occur.

The three drugs mainly used to treat genital herpes are acyclovir (Zovirax), famiclovir (Famvir), and valacyclovir (Valtrex).


Contracting genital herpes can be avoided by:

Staying celibate
Monogamy or limiting number of sexual partners
Using condoms
Avoiding sex with people with sores on their genitals (or anywhere else)
Having partner/s tested for genital herpes


Around 80% of people infected with genital herpes don’t know they have the virus because they have very mild symptoms or none at all.

Over 50% of people who have genital herpes get it from people who are entirely unaware that they have herpes themselves.

The emotional impact of being diagnosed with genital herpes is often much worse than the condition and it doesn’t deserve the upset it causes.

Oral herpes, also known as cold sores, is commonly transmitted to the genitals through oral genital contact. Up to 50% of genital herpes is caused by the oral cold sore type of herpes simplex.

The herpes virus can be passed on when there are no symptoms present.

Using condoms reduces the risk of passing on the herpes virus, but doesn’t completely eliminate it.

Daily medication can prevent recurrences of the herpes virus and reduce the risk of transmission to partners.

Having genital herpes is not associated with causing cervical cancer.

(Courtesy of New Zealand Herpes Foundation and Health24.com)

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