Genital herpes is a very contagious STI that is spread through skin-to-skin contact. This unwanted infection causes symptoms like flare-ups (similar to oral herpes) or remains completely silent, but an infected person can transmit the herpes simplex virus (HSV) to one or more partners in both cases.
It is therefore important for an infected person to take the necessary measures to prevent any transmission (especially in the case of a pregnant woman as this condition presents a considerable danger to an unborn baby).
In the next few lines, you can read more about genital herpes, including its symptoms and prevention methods.
How is genital herpes transmitted?
Contagiousness is greatest when the infected person experiences an outbreak, but genital herpes remains transmissible regardless of the presence of symptoms.
The mode of transmission is simple: just think of any contact between an infected person - or an infected object - and the skin of another person (especially the mucous membranes of the skin). This can therefore result from vaginal or anal penetration, oral sex, mutual masturbation, the use of sex toys, and others.
What are the symptoms?
The very first outbreak is more significant than the following ones. This first flare-up appears about six days after contact with the virus.
When this happens, the symptoms of genital herpes are mainly as follows:
- An outbreak of fluid-filled blisters* on the genitals, pubis, buttocks, thighs, anus and other areas near the genitals.
- An itching or burning sensation
- Fatigue and muscle pain
Over time, flare-ups decrease in frequency, severity, and duration. If left untreated, they can last 8-10 days.
* The blisters eventually become weeping ulcers, and are then at their most contagious stage.
What triggers flare-ups?
Everyone is different, and so are herpes outbreaks.
The number, duration and intensity of these symptoms therefore vary a lot from person to person.
Certain factors, such as stress, menstruation or fatigue, can trigger the onset of symptoms of genital herpes.
People with weaker immune systems have more genital herpes outbreaks in their lifetime. Generally speaking, these same people have more symptoms and experience longer flare-ups.
How to avoid getting genital herpes
The best way to avoid contracting this virus now is to use sexual protection. Using a condom is the most effective protection of all.
A person who knows they’re infected also knows that they are highly contagious as soon as they have symptoms. Until all lesions are gone, they should refrain from having sex with a partner (whether it is anal, oral or genital).
However, some people, even symptomatic, continue to have sex using a condom or a dental dam. In reality, these methods only partially protect the partner. In fact, as mentioned above, areas near the genitals can also transmit the infection (such as the pubis, buttocks and scrotum, for example).
There’s no such thing as being too cautious when it comes to protecting someone from genital herpes.
Genital herpes and pregnancy
It is well known that genital herpes is dangerous during pregnancy. Extensive damage, such as brain damage and lesions on the body (sometimes in the mucous membranes of the mouth), can adversely affect a newborn baby’s health.
How to diagnose genital herpes?
When a doctor suspects the herpes simplex virus (HSV) infection, a screening test is performed.
To do this, a skin sample is taken from the lesions. This sample is then analyzed in the laboratory to confirm the presence of the virus.
In the majority of cases, the patient receives the results between 48 and 72 hours. In the meantime, they should refrain from all sexual relations with a partner.
If the result confirms the presence of genital herpes, the patient is encouraged to contact their active sexual partner(s) to notify them. They should be on the lookout for symptoms and consult a doctor if there are any signs associated with genital herpes.
How is it treated?
There is currently no treatment available to permanently treat genital herpes. Antiviral drugs can, however:
- Reduce the risks of transmission
- Reduce the intensity and duration of symptoms
- Reduce the frequency of flare-ups
When should you consult a doctor?
Seeing a doctor as soon as you have symptoms of genital herpes is essential. Not only does this allow the person to understand their symptoms and be treated accordingly, but it also prevents the transmission of this unwanted STI.