Genital herpes is a common sexually transmitted disease (STD) and is caused by herpes simplex virus (HSV). The virus can infect both men as well as women. It is a bad infection but it is not as common as considered and is not as hazardous too. Genital herpes affect the skin or mucous membranes of the genitals. The virus is spread from one person to another during sexual contact.
Following the initial infection the virus stays in the person’s body for life. The virus becomes dormant in the body after the first infection and can reactivate later. The reactivation of the virus causes recurrence of symptoms (this is called “herpes outbreak”). Some people can have recurrence of symptoms many times in year whereas other may have recurrence even years apart.
Some of the trigger factors for reactivation of the virus and “herpes outbreak” include:
- other illness (Both mild illnesses and serious conditions can cause recurrence of symptoms)
- immune suppression (secondary to some other disease such as AIDS, cancer or medication such as chemotherapy, steroids)
- stress (physical or emotional)
- trauma to the affected area, including sexual activity
If your immune system is healthy and normal, genital herpes remains localized, can cause complications and but rarely becomes life-threatening. However in people with immunosuppression it can cause severe complications and can even be fatal.
Some of the complications associated with genital herpes include:
Other sexually transmitted infections: People with genital sores are at higher risk of transmitting or contracting other sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS.
Newborn infection: Babies born to infected mothers can become infected with virus during vaginal delivery. The disease can be severe and fatal in newborns. It can cause complications such as brain damage, blindness or death for the newborn.
Bladder problems: Some people with sores of genital herpes can develop inflammation around the urethra. Urethra is the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside world. The swelling and inflammation can cause painful micturition and if severe you may need insertion of a catheter to drain your bladder.
Meningitis: This is a rare complication of HSV infection. The brain and the membranes and cerebrospinal fluid surrounding your brain and spinal cord can become inflamed and infected.
Rectal inflammation (proctitis): Anal sex can cause sores and inflammation of lining of the rectum.
The prognosis or outcome of genital herpes is generally good in people with healthy immune system. The severity and frequency of outbreaks may decrease with suppressive treatment (that is long term administration of antiviral drugs such as acyclovir). However in people with immunosuppression (weakened immune system) due to any disease or medication the outcome can be poor. They may develop severe herpes infections that involve the brain, eyes, esophagus, liver, spinal cord, or lungs.
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