Genital Herpes – Symptoms in Men & Women


It is estimated that 1/4 of the population has genital herpes, yet most are unaware that they’ve been infected. But given that herpes is a communicable disease, it’s important to be always aware of the symptoms of herpes, as well as the available herpes treatment options.

What is Herpes?

Herpes SymptomsGenital herpes is an incurable sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types of the herpes virus: HSV-1 and HSV-2. While generally non life-threatening, herpes can cause recurring outbreaks of painful sores in the genital area and in the case of HSV-1, oral herpes (cold sores) in the mouth area as well. Herpes is known to cause psychological distress among those who have the disease.

Genital herpes is very common. It is estimated that 1 in every 4 persons in the United States will contract the disease during their lifetime. People with multiple partners and people who started sexual intercourse at a young age are most at risk for genital herpes.

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Herpes Transmission – How Is Herpes Spread?

There are two main ways herpes can be transmitted. First is by receiving oral sex from someone with an oral HSV infection. Oral herpes most commonly occurs around the face and can also be transmitted non-sexually through kissing or coming into contact with a cold sore. The second way is by genital-to-genital or genital-to-anal contact with a person infected with genital herpes.

It’s important to note that genital herpes can be spread by infected persons who show no symptoms. This is called asymptomatic viral shedding. The virus can also be transmitted by sexual contact with a person in-between his or her symptom outbreak.

The risk of catching genital herpes during a single sexual encounter with an infected partner is very high – about 50% for men and up to 90% for women.

The good news – there is no medical evidence to suggest that the herpes virus can be transmitted through swimming pools, sharing of dry towels, toilet seats, pillows, bed sheets and other inanimate objects (with the exception of sex toys.)

How Do I Know If I Have Herpes?

Genital herpes is characterized by the breakout of ulcers in the genital area. If symptoms do appear, the first episode of herpes symptoms (called primary outbreak) is usually severe. Majority of the persons who suffer primary outbreak will have further symptom outbreaks. The virus can also re-activate with no further outbreaks. When this happens, the virus can still be transmitted through non-visible sores.

However, most infected persons aren’t aware they have genital herpes – they mistake the symptoms for insect bites or they don’t manifest any noticeable symptoms at all. For this reason, it’s important to get regularly tested for HSV if you’re sexually active.

Herpes Symptoms In Men

For people who experience symptom outbreak, the first symptom usually appears within 2 weeks of contracting the disease and lasts from 1 to 6 weeks. The ulcers often appear as small red bumps (the size of a pinhead or larger) which later becomes filled with fluid or pus. The primary episode may also come with fever, chills, swollen glands and other flu-like symptoms.

In men, the genital herpes sores usually form on the penis, but it may also be found on the scrotum, thighs and buttocks. Some male sufferers also experience discharge from the urinary tube, as well as swollen lymph nodes in the groin and pelvis area. Difficulty and pain during urination may also occur.

The succeeding breakouts do not come with any kind of pattern. After the first breakout of sores, the ulcers can heal and the virus goes into latency for long periods of time. However, conditions that challenge the immune system, such as lack of sleep, poor diet, fatigue, illness, allergy, and emotional or physical stress can cause the outbreak to recur.

Herpes Symptoms In Women

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In women, genital herpes sores may appear on the outer lips (labia majora), inner lips (labia minora) and entrance of the vagina. Blisters may also appear on the clitoris, anus, buttocks and thighs. Some women report watery discharge from the vagina.

However in some cases, women with genital herpes infections may experience other serious symptoms such as stiff neck, sensitivity to light or inflammation of the brain with headache, fever and seizures. About 10 percent of women who has herpes will develop a yeast infection.

Recurring outbreaks of genital herpes in women may also occur frequently due to emotional and physical stress or hormonal changes related to menstruation and pregnancy, poor eating habits, trauma to the skin or exposure to sunlight.

How Is Herpes Diagnosed? How to Test For Herpes?

Genital herpes can be diagnosed by visual infection if the outbreak is typical. Doctors may also perform a lesion culture test by taking  a swab or scraping from the sore for laboratory testing. In between outbreaks or when there are no symptoms, herpes can be diagnosed using a blood test.

A blood test for the diagnosis of genital herpes may be performed if no physical signs or visible sores are initially found. The ELISA test and the Western blot immunoassay test are two common tests are commonly performed to look for antibodies to the virus in the blood.

Herpes Treatment – How Is Herpes Treated?

At present, herpes is incurable. However, anti-viral medications can limit and shorten outbreaks, suppress their recurrence as well as lessen the risk of transmitting the virus to a sexual partner. Acyclovir, valacyclovir and famciclovir are the preferred drugs for herpes infection, and may be taken intravenously, orally or applied topically.

If Herpes Is Not Treated?

In general, genital herpes has no serious health consequences except for the recurrent breakout of sores. However, the infection can affect those with suppressed immune systems more severely.

The greatest risk genital herpes pose is to infants, who can get the virus as they pass through an infected mother’s birth canal. Herpes can be fatal to newborn babies. For this reason, it is recommended that mothers with herpes give birth via C section delivery.

Can Herpes Be Cured?

At present, herpes is an incurable disease. But as mentioned, genital herpes can be managed through antiviral medications.

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