Genital Herpes in Women
MEDICAL ANIMATION TRANSCRIPT: Genital herpes is a common type of sexually transmitted disease or infection. It is more common in women than men. The infection commonly affects your genitals, which are the reproductive organs inside and outside of your body. It can also affect your buttocks, anal area, or mouth. Genital herpes is most often caused by the herpes simplex virus type two, or HSV-2. While herpes simplex virus type one, or HSV-1, may cause genital herpes as well, it more commonly infects the lips, mouth, or gums. It causes painful blisters, often referred to as cold sores. This is called oral herpes. Occasionally, HSV-2 can also cause oral herpes. You can catch the herpes virus from an infected person through close, personal contact during genital or oral sex. The virus can enter your body through a break in your skin, or through the tissue that lines many of your body cavities, including the tissue lining your mouth and genitals. Once inside the skin, the virus can multiply within your cells. This damages the cells and inflames your skin, causing painful sores as your body tries to control the infection. As your skin begins to heal, some viruses enter branches of your nerve cells, called axons. The virus travels through the axons to an area near your spinal cord, where they become dormant, or inactive. This is known as the herpes latent stage. At a later time, certain triggers can make the virus active again, such as stress, illness, exposure to sunlight, and having your period. When this happens, the virus can return down your axons to your skin, causing another round of sores. The main risk for getting genital herpes is having oral, anal, or vaginal sex with a person who is infected. There is a higher risk of an infected male passing it to an uninfected female during vaginal sex than an infected female passing it to an uninfected male. This may happen because the tissue in a woman’s vagina is more prone to small tears, enabling the virus to enter the body. Your risk of infection also goes up as the number of sex partners you have increases. If you have the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, you have an increased risk of getting genital herpes. Many people never have symptoms. And there are no symptoms during latent stages. But symptoms of an active infection in women include painful sores or blisters in the genital area. Common sites include the genitals on the outside of your body, also known as the vulva, the vagina, cervix, anus, thighs, and buttocks. In men, the common sites of sores or blisters include the penis, scrotum, anus, thighs, and buttocks. In both men and women, sores may also be found on the lips, tongue, gums, eyes, and fingers. Other symptoms include painful or difficult urination, feeling unwell or having flu-like symptoms, and swollen lymph nodes in the groin. In people with a weakened immune system, such as those with HIV, genital sores can be severe and long-lasting. If your immune system is weak, the herpes virus may also spread to other parts of your body, such as the brain and spinal cord, eyes, esophagus, lungs, and liver. And, during vaginal childbirth, women can also pass the herpes virus to their newborn baby if they become infected or have a secondary outbreak near their delivery date. There is no cure for genital herpes. Once infected, your body will always harbor the virus. People who aren’t sexually active and rarely or never have symptoms may not need any treatment. But your healthcare provider can prescribe an antiviral medication to prevent or reduce symptoms, such as acyclovir or valacyclovir. If you only have a few outbreaks a year, you may only need antiviral medication during each outbreak. This is called episodic therapy. If you have many outbreaks a year, or if you are sexually active, you may take antiviral medication daily. This is called suppressive therapy. It can prevent outbreaks, reduce how many outbreaks you have, reduce how long outbreaks last, and reduce the risk of passing genital herpes to a sex partner. If you have genital herpes, taking antiviral medication and using latex condoms during sex can help prevent its spread to others. To find out more about genital herpes, talk to your healthcare provider.