Did you know that if your partner has oral herpes and has oral sex with you, they could give you genital herpes? This is one of the ways you get this STI, and anyone who has vaginal, anal, or oral sex can get it .
Produced by the herpes simplex virus type 1 and type 2, this sexually transmitted infection is one of the most common. In 2016, the World Health Organization estimated that more than 490 million people worldwide live with this infection (1), so if you are sexually active it is important that you know what the symptoms of genital herpes are, how it is spread and how to prevent this STI.
What is genital herpes?
It is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 and herpes simplex virus type 2. Genital herpes is one of the most common and contagious sexually transmitted infections, however, because in many cases do not present symptoms , there are many people who do not know they are infected, thus increasing the possibility of transmitting the infection.
How is genital herpes spread?
Genital herpes can be spread through vaginal, anal, or oral sex, even if your partner is not showing symptoms of the infection. It is caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 or HSV-1, which affects the mouth and lips but can be transmitted to the genitals through oral sex, and by the herpes simplex virus 2 or HSV-2, which normally causes genital herpes and is transmitted through vaginal, anal or oral sex or through skin-to-skin contact with an infected person (2).
Infection can occur if we are in contact with the virus present in (3):
- A sore caused by herpes.
- Saliva if you have a herpes in the mouth or genital fluids such as semen or vaginal discharge if you have genital herpes.
- The skin in the area around the mouth in the case of oral herpes or the skin around the genital area in the case of genital herpes.
Remember that it can be transmitted even if there are no signs of outbreaks in the genitals or mouth of the infected person.
What are the symptoms of genital herpes?
Genital herpes usually does not present symptoms or they are very mild, which is why it can be confused with other skin conditions. This is the reason why many people are unaware that they have this STI, which makes it easier to transmit (3).
When signs are present, they may include (2):
- Presence of blisters in the genital area, anus, thighs, buttocks or mouth.
- If the blisters break, sores can form that cause discomfort and pain when urinating. Scabs may also develop once the sores begin to heal.
- Pain or itching in the area where the blisters occur.
When the symptoms appear for the first time we are facing an outbreak of genital herpes, the following times that these discomforts appear are considered herpes outbreaks. You can have several outbreaks over time, in these cases it is possible that before the blisters appear you have other symptoms such as itching or burning in the area of your body where the virus entered, as well as pain in the lower back, the buttocks and legs.
What consequences does this infection have?
The consequences of getting genital herpes can include (2):
- Herpes outbreaks: If you have this STI, you may have outbreaks several times a year.
- Increased risk of HIV and other STIs: A person with genital herpes is more likely to get other sexually transmitted infections, such as the human immunodeficiency virus or HIV. This is because other viruses and infections can enter through the sores or blisters during sex, increasing the risk of having other STIs.
- Genital herpes and pregnancy: Women with an active genital herpes outbreak at the time of delivery could pass the virus to the newborn during natural childbirth, which could put their health at risk. Therefore, if you have suffered from genital herpes in the past or the symptoms of an outbreak are detected during pregnancy, it is important to notify the gynecologist to take the necessary measures.
How is genital herpes diagnosed?
When there is an active outbreak, herpes can be diagnosed through ulcers or skin blisters , so if you detect this type of ulcer on your genitals it is important to see your family doctor, a urologist, gynecologist or dermatologist to perform a full exam. In addition, when the outbreak is not active, a simple blood test can also be used to diagnose the infection, since antibody levels can identify whether a person is infected (2).
How should genital herpes be treated?
Genital herpes has no cure , however, antiviral-based treatment helps to reduce the frequency of outbreaks, to reduce the intensity and duration of symptoms, to reduce the possibility of spreading this STI and also to favor the recovery of ulcers during the first outbreak if applied at that time (2).
That is why it is important to go to your family doctor or specialists in gynecology, urology and dermatology if you suffer from any symptoms. Only a medical professional can indicate the appropriate treatment according to your particular condition.
Can I have sex if I have genital herpes?
It is important that if you have genital herpes you go to your doctor to receive medical treatment that helps prevent both ulcers and outbreaks, as this type of medication can reduce the risk of spreading the infection to another.
It is not recommended that you have sexual intercourse or genital contact if you have a herpes outbreak. In addition, it is necessary that you talk to your sexual partner or partners and inform them that you have this infection, so that they can carry out the corresponding check-ups and take the necessary precautions in each sexual encounter.