Genital Herpes

What is Genital Herpes?

Genital Herpes is caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV), which is one of the most common infections in humans. There are 2 types of Herpes Simplex Viruses:

Type 1 - is usually found around the lips and is commonly known as a cold sore

Type 2 - is usually found around the genitals or anus

It is important to note that both types can occur in either area. Genital herpes is usually caused by HSV-2, but increasingly being caused by HSV- 1 because of the rising popularity of oral sex.

Once a person has the Herpes Simplex Virus, it travels along the nerves that are connected to the affected areas and lies dormant. The virus can re-activate later and travel along the nerve to the skin surface and cause a recurrence.

The first episode of genital herpes usually takes 2-12 days to occur after infection, but occasionally symptoms may not occur until months or years later.

Recurrent episodes occur in most, but not all, people and can happen years after the first episode. The interval between episodes varies greatly between individuals. Genital infection with Herpes Simplex Virus type 1 is less likely to recur as often as genital infection with Herpes Simplex Virus type 2. The same is true for around the mouth, Herpes Simplex Virus type 2 around the mouth tends to recur more often than type 1.

Prevalence of Genital Herpes

Genital Herpes is a very common sexually transmitted disease/infection. It is estimated that 1 in 8 Australians have it and that around 85% of people carry HSV type 1 and 20% carry HSV type 2.

It is twice as common in adult women as it is in adult men and is most prevalent in women aged 35-44 years. Genital herpes is more common among adults living in metropolitan areas than in rural areas and it is more common within indigenous communities than in non-indigenous communities.

How is it transmitted?

Genital HerpesGenital herpes is transmitted through close skin-to-skin contact with someone who has the virus, usually during vaginal, anal or oral intercourse. It is important to note that transmission can also occur if there is skin-to-skin contact without penetrative sex.

From prodromal symptoms (burning, tingling, itching) until the sores have healed the virus can be transmitted via close skin-to-skin contact with the infected area. During this time it is advisable to avoid sexual intercourse completely.

The Herpes Simplex Virus can be transmitted from people who do not know they are infected, since it is possible for people to don't have any symptoms or have very minor symptoms that go unnoticed.  80% of people who have genital herpes are unaware that they have it and therefore it can be unintentionally passed on.

Not surprisingly then, most transmissions tend to occur when there is no outbreak present, during viral shedding, which is when the virus is present on the skin but there are no obvious symptoms. Always using condoms reduces the risk of contracting genital herpes and getting regularly tested for STI's is therefore important.

Condoms should always be used with new or casual partners, since this provides protection from other sexually transmitted infections/diseases.


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