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Herpes genitalis is a viral disease caused by the virus Herpes simplex type-2 (HSV-2) but also by type-1 (HSV-1), which commonly causes fever blisters or cold sores, usually at the lips. Herpes genitalis belongs to the group of sexually transmitted diseases. The virus can be transmitted during any sexual contacts between two people. 'Sexual contact' does not only imply sexual intercourse, it also includes any close bodily contact that is oral as well as anal contact and intercourse, and often just a kiss.

Pregnant women can transmit the virus to their newborn child via the placenta (rarely), but usually during delivery, when the baby passes through the birth canal. Herpes acquired during birth (congenital herpes) can be without symptoms, but more often expresses itself by localized skin eruptions (blisters), or even systemic disease (affecting the entire body and all organs). The systemic type of congenital herpes can affect all organs, including the brain, leading to inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) and even seizures, which then can often result in the death of the child. Your private physician will best be able to determine the risk factors that are of significance in your specific case.

Classic symptoms, especially in an early Herpes infection, are blisters, which usually occur in small groups either in the genital area, i.e. the vagina, vulva, on the penis, or near the anus; they may, however, also occur on the buttocks or thighs. Most people (about 80%), especially women, do not notice the infection, either because the symptoms are so very mild or because they do not recognize the blisters. Nevertheless, they are highly contagious during the early days, usually the first three days of infection, to their partners. During this time, it is imperative not to scratch or open the blisters, since contamination to other body parts, especially eyes, can occur in addition to person-to-person contamination. The symptoms appear between 2 and 10 days after the initial infection and last about 2 to 3 weeks. In addition to, sometimes even without, the blisters, a persistent itch and pain, as well as burning sensation while urinating, and a paresthesia-like pain in the affected area which may radiate into the legs may appear. Women may experience some discharge from the vagina. Swollen lymph nodes are often noted in the groin area. The blisters develop into open, often painful sores before they heal without scars after about ten days. Since the virus lives in nerve cells and travels along the sensory nerves to the end of the spinal cord where it remains for life, it can reemerge at any time or remain latent without further outbreaks. New outbreaks are often caused by physical stress (including mentally caused physical stress), too much exposure to sun and other extraordinary stresses put upon the body. Recurrences are, however, usually less severe than the original infection. They often announce themselves through itching in the genital area with paresthesia-like pains (numb, tingling feelings) in the buttocks, sometimes radiating down the leg.

genitalis can be recognized in an acute infection by the characteristic blisters. A more accurate test is a viral culture that is prepared from the contents of a newly developed blister and added to healthy cells. However, culture tests are positive only in about 20% of first time infections – they are better in diagnosing recurrent infections.

Examination under the microscope reveals, about two days later, characteristic cell changes indicating viral growth, but cannot distinguish between HSV-1 and HSV-2 infections.

An active Herpes infection cannot be identified by a blood test; however, after the infection has subsided, blood tests can identify the presence of proteins (antibodies) which have been produced during previous infections. Also, these antibodies do not protect the once infected person from viral reemergence at any time.

Antigen tests can be performed from blood samples early on, detecting the antigen of the virus – so-called immuno-fluorescence tests or enzyme-linked immuno-sorbent assays (ELISA). However, these tests are usually only performed by research laboratories or large referral labs, due to the associated costs and labor intensive procedures.


There is no curative treatment for Herpes infections. Relatively new drug therapies, consisting of drugs such as acyclovir or subsequently improved drugs such as famcyclovir or valacyclovir can be given to hasten the course of the disease, to alleviate the symptoms and to suppress the reemergence of the virus, but they cannot eliminate the virus entirely, which remains in the body for life.

Prevention of all sexually transmitted diseases lies primarily in avoiding and eliminating sexual contact with an infected person. Since one cannot always be assured of the sexual hygiene of a partner, prevention is best achieved, with a relatively high degree of success, by using a latex condom. Non-latex condoms are not as certain to prevent contact with the infected person's organisms, since some organisms can penetrate non-latex materials and infect the partner. In addition to the condoms used by men, there are now also condoms for women who can take the initiative if the man does not. A condom should never be used more than once, because contamination with or leaking of semen occurs frequently upon repeated usage of any kind of condom. If a person knows that he/she is infected by one of these diseases, he/she should take responsibility and abstain from sexual contacts with anybody during the time of contagion.



DISCLAIMER: The above article is only intended to provide general information regarding this topic. It is not intended and does NOT replace the need to consult a medical or other professional person, if you have or believe to have this disease/disorder. While the article was researched, written and reviewed by medical professionals and Garven MD LLC, its staff and publisher made every effort to assure accuracy and correctness, it does not claim to be complete, correct or to reflect the very latest stand of medical/scientific knowledge in the disease’s/syndrome’s pathology, diagnostic and/or therapeutic development. Garven MD LLC, its founder, management, staff, writers, reviewers or publishers may NOT be made responsible or legally bound to any information provided above, and cannot be held liable to any conclusions or decisions the reader may draw after reading this article. The reader is explicitly advised to consult a licensed physician and to present his/her specific situation before making any health related decisions.


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