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Herpes

Introduction

Genital herpes is a highly contagious sexually transmitted disease caused by herpes simplex virus (HSV). It take 2 forms:

  • blister in the mouth or face (oral herpes or HSV type 1)
  • appearing in the genital area (genital herpes or HSV type 2)

This virus enters your body through small breaks in your skin or mucous membranes. When contracted, the virus remains permanently in the body.

Cold sores are contracted through saliva or direct contact.

Genital Herpes is contracted through unprotected sexual intercourse. Pregnant mothers with genital herpes could pass this infection to their unborn children, causing meningitis, seizures, blindness or mental retardation.

It’s almost impossible to get the infection through contact with toilets, towels or other objects used by an infected person, because the virus dies quickly outside the body.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Herpes Simplex Type 1

Usually causes cold sores or blisters on the lips or inside the mouth. These may develop into painful ulcers. It also can infect the genital area and produce sores. The eyes and the nervous system can be affected too. Other symptoms include swollen, red gums, a white coating on the tongue, swollen neck glands, fever and muscle aches. These symptoms may not occur immediately upon infection, but could appear days, weeks or even years later.

  • Herpes Simplex Type 2

Usually affects the vagina or penis and scrotum, as well as the buttocks and anus. But it also can infect the mouth during oral sex. The infected person will feel an itchy or painful sensation. Sores appear soon after this, making urination painful. The sores will ooze liquid or blood, then heal within 2 to 4 weeks. Other symptoms include fever and swollen lymph nodes

Complications

  • In healthy adults, genital herpes generally doesn’t cause other serious permanent complications besides the sores. However, people with weakened immune systems may have more severe and longer lasting outbreaks.
  • Having genital herpes can increase the risk of transmitting or contracting other sexually transmitted diseases, including the AIDS virus.
  • A mother with open sores can spread the infection to her newborn as the infant passes through the birth canal. Genital herpes may result in brain damage, blindness or death for the newborn. The infection is more common in infants born to mothers who are having their first outbreak of active herpes infection at the time of delivery

Treatment

There is no known cure. For herpes, however, oral prescription antiviral medications, including acyclovir (Zovirax), famciclovir (Famvir) and valacyclovir (Valtrex), can help heal the sores sooner and reduce the frequency of relapses. If taken daily, these medications may also reduce the chance you’ll infect your partner with the herpes virus.

Prevention

Wait until all sores are completely healed before resuming sexual activity, always use latex condoms to reduce the chances that you’ll infect your partner.

  • Do not share food and utensils with other people suffering from cold sores or ulcers.
  • Avoid physical contact with infected persons. Do not kiss a person with cold sores!
  • Practice safe sex. If you have genital herpes, inform your partner immediately.
  • Maintain a strong immune system through regular exercise, proper nutrition and rest.

Various factors may trigger the virus to recur, including:

  • Stress
  • Menstruation or pregnancy (hormonal changes)
  • Poor nutrition
  • Illness
  • Surgery

Friction, such as that caused by vigorous sexual intercourse

Last reviewed : 26 April 2012
Writer : Dr. Fuad Hashim
Reviewer : Datin Dr. Asmah Johar