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Gynaecologic Problems: Genital herpes


Genital herpes is a contagious viral infection that affects an estimated 30 million Americans. Each year, as many as 500,000 new cases are believed to occur. The infection is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types of HSV, and both can cause the symptoms of genital herpes. HSV type 1 most commonly causes sores on the lips (known as fever blisters or cold sores), but it can cause genital infections as well. HSV type 2 most often causes genital sores, but it can also infect the mouth. The virus remains in certain nerve cells of the body for life, causing periodic symptoms in some people. Most people who are infected with HSV never develop symptoms.
In genital herpes, after invading the skin or mucous membranes, the virus travels to the sensory nerves at the end of the spinal cord. Even after the skin lesions have disappeared, the virus remains inside the nerve cells in an inactive state. In most people, the virus reactivates from time to time. The frequency and severity of the recurrent episodes vary greatly.

Symptoms and Signs

The symptoms of genital herpes vary widely from person to person. When symptoms of a first episode of genital herpes occur, they usually appear within 2 to 10 days of exposure to the virus and last an average of 2 to 3 weeks. The early symptoms can include an itching or burning sensation; pain in the legs, buttocks, or genital area; vaginal discharge; or a feeling of pressure in the abdominal region.

Within a few days, sores (also called lesions) appear at the site of infection. Lesions can also occur on the cervix in women or in the urinary passage in men. These small red bumps may develop into blisters or painful open sores. Over a period of days, the sores become crusted and then heal without scarring. Other symptoms that may accompany a primary episode of genital herpes can include fever, headache, muscle aches, painful or difficult urination, vaginal discharge, and swollen glands in the groin area.

Diagnosis and Treatment

During an active herpes episode, whether primary or recurrent, it is important to follow a few simple steps to speed healing and to avoid spreading the infection to other sites of the body or to other people: keep the infected area clean and dry, try to avoid touching the sores, wash hands after contact, and avoid sexual contact from the time the symptoms are first recognised until the sores have healed.

In 1982, the first antiviral drug for genital herpes, acyclovir , was approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use as a topical ointment in persons suffering from an initial episode of infection. Acyclovir is not a cure for herpes, the virus remains in the body, but while taken regularly, the drug interferes with the virus’ ability to reproduce itself.

Genital Herpes & Pregnancy

A pregnant woman who develops a first episode of genital herpes can pass the virus to her foetus and may be at higher risk for premature delivery . Newborns rarely become infected with herpes ( neonatal herpes ); however, half of those who become infected either die or suffer neurological damage. With early detection and therapy, many serious complications can be lessened. The new-born's chances of infection depend on whether the mother is having a recurrent or a first outbreak. If the mother is having her first outbreak at the time of a vaginal birth, the baby's risk of infection is approximately one in three. If the outbreak is a recurrence, the baby's risk is very low. Because of the danger of infection to the baby, however, the physician will perform a caesarean section if herpes lesions are detected in or near the birth canal during labour. Some physicians also perform a viral culture at the time of delivery to detect shedding in women known to have had genital herpes outbreaks in the past. A baby born with herpes can develop encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), severe rashes, and eye problems. Acyclovir can greatly improve the outcome for babies with neonatal herpes, particularly if they receive immediate treatment.

The information in this page is presented in summarised form and has been taken from the following source(s):
1. The National Women's Health Information Center (NWHIC) FAQs:

Other HON resources 
   From MedHunt

Herpes in women
    From HONselect
     (def;articles & more)   

Herpes Simplex:

Herpes Genitalis

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Herpes Simplex
Herpes Genitalis


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Contact Last modified: Jun 25 2002