Genital herpes is a viral infection that may cause blisters and open sores on the genitals. It is a type of sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2).
Early in the phase of reactivation (also called an outbreak), many people experience an itching, tingling, or painful feeling in the area where their recurrent lesions will develop. This sort of warning symptom—called a “prodrome”—often comes a day or two before lesions appear. To be on the safe side, it’s best to assume virus is active (and, therefore, can be spread through direct skin-to-skin contact) during these times.
Treatment with antiviral drugs is standard during first episodes and can speed healing significantly. If you haven’t already, you may want to discuss treatment with your healthcare provider at this time.
- What Can Be Mistaken for Genital Herpes
- Herpes Signs and Symptoms
- What Is the Treatment for Genital Herpes?
- How Do I Know if I Have Herpes or Something Else
- What Are Symptoms of Genital Herpes?
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What Can Be Mistaken for Genital Herpes
Antiviral medicines may be used to help reduce and prevent symptoms of genital herpes and speed up the healing of an outbreak, such as:
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While some people realize that they have genital herpes, many do not. It is estimated that one in eight persons in the United States has genital herpes; however, as many as 90 percent are unaware that they have the virus. This is because many people have very mild symptoms that go unrecognized or are mistaken for another condition or no symptoms at all. Because signs can vary a great deal, we recommend that an individual see a healthcare provider to be tested if they have a lesion of any kind. This can be swabbed for testing. A person may show symptoms within days after contracting genital herpes, or it may take weeks, months, or even years. Some people may have a severe outbreak within days after contracting the virus while others may have a first outbreak so mild that they do not notice it. Because of these possibilities, it can be difficult for people to know when and from whom they may have contracted the virus.
Herpes “triggers” (determining exactly what leads to an outbreak) are highly individual, but with time, many people learn to recognize, and sometimes avoid, factors that seem to reactivate HSV in their own bodies. Illness, poor diet, emotional or physical stress, friction in the genital area, prolonged exposure to ultraviolet light (commonly for oral herpes, such as a beach trip or skiing weekend), surgical trauma, and steroidal medication (such as asthma treatment) may trigger a herpes outbreak.
Herpes Signs and Symptoms
To help reduce the pain of genital herpes during an outbreak, home remedies include:
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What Is the Treatment for Genital Herpes?
. . .and other conditions. In other words, the signs go unrecognized as being caused by genital herpes. Signs and symptoms can be found on the penis and vulva, near the anus, on the thigh, on the buttocks, and virtually anywhere in the genital area.
Usually, there are more outbreaks during the first year, and many people find that outbreaks become less severe and less frequent with time.
How Do I Know if I Have Herpes or Something Else
A number of different conditions could be mistaken for genital herpes. Treatment for each condition may be different, which is why it is important to see a doctor for an accurate diagnosis. Conditions that may resemble genital herpes include:
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What Are Symptoms of Genital Herpes?
The nerves in the genitals, upper thighs and buttocks are connected, so a person can experience outbreaks in any of these areas. Such areas include the vagina or vulva, penis, scrotum or testicles, buttocks or anus, or thighs.
Most people with herpes won’t experience symptoms, but knowing what to look for can make you more aware.