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Facts about Genital Herpes Infection

  • Herpes simplex 1 is most commonly associated with the less severe symptoms of the herpes virus, such as cold sores appearing in or around the mouth. Herpes simplex 2, on the other hand, is associated most commonly with the more severe symptoms of herpes, such as those affecting the genital regions
  • Spreading genital herpes and other forms of the herpes virus occur through close physical contact, with the blisters and herpes sores being the most obvious and contagious areas of possible contraction
  • A herpes outbreak can involve inflamed red spots that can appear around the eyes and inside and outside of the mouth and can disappear and reappear as frequently as every week or less frequently as in once every year
  • Although no cure for herpes currently exists, a number of herpes tests are available for prevention and/or diagnosis, as well as a variety of herpes treatments

Herpes is a form of viral infection caused by the herpes simplex virus or HSV. There are two subtypes of the herpes virus named HSV-1 (herpes simplex virus-1) or HSV-2 (herpes simple virus-2). HSV-1 is responsible for blisters and cold sores occurring in or on the mouth while HSV-2 is associated with the genital infections or sores caused in and around the genital regions of both males and females. Genital herpes occurs right below our waist region and it also causes discomfort. Improper functioning of the immune system is also responsible for the occurrence of herpes.

The HSV can only be transmitted from human to human. The herpes simplex virus is transmitted through close contact of the linings of our mouth, or the genital skin with mucous-covered linings. This virus penetrates the inner linings of the skin through certain microscopic tears. As the virus reaches inside, it travels to the roots of the nerves close to the spinal cord and settles down permanently. The first time an individual is infected is referred to as the primary infection and may or may not be presented with clinical symptoms or even know they are infected. However, the primary infection can present clinical symptoms, which can be the appearance of blisters, ulcers, or red inflamed areas (lesions), occurring in various body sites such as the eyes, inside and outside of the mouth and the genital regions. All the blisters and lesions are contagious and can be spread easily.

After a herpes outbreak, the virus goes down to the fibers of the nerves and settles down at the site of the infected area. As it reaches our skin, it causes blisters and reddening. After the preliminary outbreak of herpes, you can expect subsequent intermittent occurrences, weekly, monthly or yearly. HSV is not gender specific and often occurs when the body’s immune system is stressed, has another infection, or has experienced minor trauma. In women, menstruation can bring about an outbreak.

Diagnosing Herpes

Genital herpes can be suspected with the occurrence of several painful blisters appearing on the mouth, near or in the eyes and the sexually exposed regions. As you notice any such symptom appearing you need to consult a doctor for proper diagnosis. Several tests are conducted to determine herpes. Only then one can proceed to herpes treatment.

Initial Examination

The initial examination involves your doctor discussing what your reason for the office visit is. Asking several questions regarding your sexual history and although this may seem quite personal; it is necessary to be accurate in diagnosing. After the discussion aspect the doctor will need to examine you visually and physically to analyze of any affected areas.

For men, the initial examination involves the checking for blisters or lesions on the penis, scortum, and rectum. Urethral discharge is another symptom and will also be checked by swabbing the urethra and the anus for a lab test.

For women, the initial examination involves the examination of the pelvic region with speculum to investigate the vagina and the cervix. Also the labia and regions between the anus and the vulva need to be investigated for similar signs of viral infections. Swabs are taken for lab test from the anus and the cervix regions.

It is necessary to check the lymph nodes for both the sexes to see if there’s any abnormality, such as sores or blisters.

Available Tests

Several tests can be conducted for determining herpes, but the most widely used tests are of 3 types:

• Viral Culture
• Serologic Tests
• Antigen Tests

Laboratory tests for determining herpes are based on 2 major categories:

• Sensitivity
• Specificity

Sensitivity determines the accuracy of the test in diagnosing herpes and Specificity refers to the probability of accurately saying that a person isn’t suffering from herpes. The cost and the speed are also important factors and one should take these into account.

Viral Culture:

Viral culture is the process of determining the location and also the presence of the herpes virus in the skin lesion. The location where the virus grows is called the culture medium. Viral culture is specific and it doesn’t give an accurate or positive result if something else can likely be the cause of the problem.

If adequate specimen is provided, it can be quite sensitive.

It also helps in determining the virus that has caused the infection, whether it is HSV-1 or HSV-2.

Improper samples can mark a drop in the sensitivity. The presence of herpes lesions might even not help in producing the accurate results.

Serologic Tests:

Serologic tests have a different approach in looking into the cause of the complication. The antibodies are detected in this case. Antibodies are typical substances generated to fight against infection, by our immune system.

Serologic tests involve blood tests in determining herpes. This helps in determining the presence of antibodies in the blood or the serum to detect herpes. Blood tests can be conducted in the absence of herpes signs and symptoms. If the presence of antibodies can be determined, the presence of herpes simplex virus is dormant in one’s body. Blood tests do not involve lesion swabbing and can even be done after the symptoms fade.

having a history of typical genital herpes symptoms but have never been through a confirmatory blood test should go for type-specific tests. In case of blood tests, the sensitivity and the specificity are much better than antigen tests or culture, but there are 2 vital factors that need to be taken into consideration:

First: If a person is experiencing herpes for the first time, it might take several weeks for the antibodies to develop. So timing is an important factor.

Second: There are certain blood tests that cannot differentiate between the virus types – HSV-1 and HSV-2. So, while you are undergoing a serological test, you need to ask for “type-specific” tests in order to determine the virus type.

Antigen Detection Tests

This is the third test and helps in identifying the components of the viruses. This method is less frequently use and it looks for virus in the lesions. It helps in identifying the herpes by determining the presence of the virus fragments, antigens that helps in stimulating our immune system.

Antigen detection tests also involve swabbing, like the viral culture. But antigen tests are less sensitive than the viral culture and are conducted in laboratories.

Antigen test produce quicker results and are less expensive as compared to other methods of diagnosis.

The information supplied in this article is not to be considered as medical advice and is for educational purposes only.

One Response to “Facts about Genital Herpes Infection”

  1. 1
    Karen Says:
    It's a bit scary that there is no cure for genital herpes. What are some good preventative measures (besides abstinence)? Is using condoms and staying away from oral sex enough?