Every year, 12,000 people in the Netherlands are infected with Herpes Genitalis. With this number, this STD ranks third on the list of most common STDs in the Netherlands. There are a lot of misunderstandings about the method of infection and the correct treatment. Herpes is very contagious and is caused by a virus that sometimes manifests itself in children, but in these cases usually does not (yet) cause Herpes Genitalis.
What is Herpes Genitalis?
With 12,000 new infections per year in the Netherlands, Herpes Genitalis ranks third among the most common STDs. Herpes is caused by the HSV-2 virus, which causes an infection of the skin and mucous membranes in and around the genitals. There are several types of the HSV virus. Children are often infected with the HSV-1 virus, which causes, among other things, cold sores. HSV-1 can also cause Herpes Genitalis during oral sex.
Other forms of Herpes include shingles and mononucleosis. To become infected with Herpes you must come into contact with the rash on the skin or mucous membrane around the mouth, penis, vagina or anus. The risk of becoming infected is greatest when the infected person suffers from bumps or blisters.
Within a week after infection, you may experience the following complaints:
- Itching and a burning, irritating and painful sensation.
- Red spots on the skin or mucous membranes.
- Blisters or sores, which are usually located around the penis, labia, entrance to the vagina or anus. In some cases, these blisters or sores also occur inside the vagina or anus, but they are not visible.
- First attacks can cause fever, pain, swollen glands in the groin and discharge from the vagina.
- Women in particular often have pain when urinating.
- After anal contact with an infected person, the rectum can become inflamed. This is sometimes accompanied by blood or mucus loss and pain during defecation.
- Herpes can be transmitted via (own) fingers to other (own) body parts, such as the eyes or the fingers themselves. In that case, this must also be treated. To prevent this, it is recommended not to touch the blisters or sores with your hands and to always wash your hands thoroughly after (possible) contact.
When the symptoms of Herpes have disappeared after treatment, the disease seems to be completely gone. Unfortunately, this is not the case and the disease continues dormant in the form of a nerve knot, which can flare up again at any time. (For example, think of a monthly recurring cold sore.) The blisters and sores can always return, in some people more often than others. However, these attacks are often less serious than the first attack. Attacks mainly occur again when resistance is lower, for example before menstruation or during flu.
When the immune system is seriously weakened, the attack can be much more serious and longer lasting. This is, for example, the case with certain medication use, such as repellents after a transplant, or when infected with HIV.
You can simply become pregnant if you are (or have been) infected with Herpes Genitalis. It is necessary that the GP, obstetrician or gynecologist is aware of this infection. The risk of infecting your baby during pregnancy is significant, but very small. So you can simply give birth vaginally. In some cases, the baby will be immediately checked for the presence of the Herpes virus. If you first become infected with Herpes in the last month of pregnancy, the risks increase and it is usually recommended to have a caesarean section instead of a vaginal delivery.
If you suspect that you have been infected with Herpes Genitalis, it is important to have an examination done by a doctor. This can determine whether it is indeed Herpes and this is of course of great importance for you and your partner(s). If you have yourself examined in time, the doctor can prescribe a drug that will limit the severity of the infection and shorten its duration.
The doctor will ask about physical complaints you experience or other possible symptoms. He will also ask whether you had safe or unsafe sex and whether you have a steady partner. This way the doctor can determine whether your permanent partner may also be infected. During the examination, the genitals are carefully examined. Women are also examined inside the vagina using a speculum (duckbill). In case of certain complaints, the anus and rectum will also be examined. This is done using a proctoscope (viewing tube). Internal examination is a very annoying and sometimes painful examination, but in most cases it is really necessary. Usually, some fluid is removed from the bumps or sores to make a good and certain diagnosis after it has been examined in the lab. You will often also be tested immediately for any other STD.
There is no medicine that can make Herpes disappear completely. This can cause the disease to resurface at any time. However, there are drugs that limit the severity, such as Zelitrex, Zovirax and Famvir. These medicines inhibit the virus and prevent further spread. These medicines are available with a doctor’s prescription.
It is important that the doctor is aware of the number of recurrent attacks, how often the attacks recur and to what extent. This way the correct treatment can be determined. It is important to start taking medication immediately when the first symptoms become visible again.
If you have a permanent partner, it is of course very important that he knows about the Herpes infection. It is very annoying to have to inform your partner about this, but it is very important for your partner’s health. It is advisable to also have the partner tested for the presence of Herpes. If you have casual/varying sex partners, information is not strictly necessary if you always practice safe sex.
Preventing infection with Herpes
Of course, prevention is better than treatment. It is better not to have sexual intercourse if your partner is having an attack. If you still want to make love, always use a (female) condom. If you suffer from a cold sore, it is better not to perform oral sex. Also, do not perform oral sex if your partner suffers from sores, bumps or red spots around the genitals or anus. Always avoid any contact with blisters, etc., both with yourself and with your partner.
There is no way to completely protect yourself against infection with Herpes, even if you are aware of your partner’s infection and take measures. You can also be infected without experiencing any symptoms yourself. There is nothing to see or feel, but you can still infect someone else very easily. Using a condom also does not provide complete protection against infection. It may be the case that the blisters or sores are located above the condom edge, as a result of which the skin can still come into contact with the partner’s genitals. Using a condom greatly reduces the risks.
Emotional Effects of Herpes.
Besides the fact that the disease will never completely disappear, the disease also leaves emotional traces. Feelings of guilt often arise. Feelings of shame, anger and sadness are also common. These emotions return again and again with the recurring attacks of Herpes. The idea that the disease will never go away intensifies all emotions. Especially if you contracted the disease during a one-night stand or a drunken stupor. You will have to learn to live with Herpes and eventually you will realize that the attacks can return at any time. It is better to accept this and always take it into account. After all, there is nothing you can do to prevent a new attack. Herpes can also cause relationship problems. A steady relationship is not easy when your partner is always at risk of becoming infected. Talk to your partner about the disease, provide sufficient information, do not expect too much understanding at first and try to deal with each other’s emotions. If the arguments within the relationship continue (as a result of the illness), acceptance is not present and will probably never come again. In that case, it might be better to end the relationship.
- Consult a doctor immediately if you suspect that you have been infected with Herpes.
- Talk openly and honestly with the doctor about the situation.
- Inform the doctor about the number of attacks, duration and severity.
- If you know who infected you, approach this person and tell them about the situation. This person may not know that he/she is infected. This person can then (just like you) prevent further spread.
- Always use a (female) condom during sex, especially during an attack. This still offers some protection. No intercourse is better.
- Avoid oral sex with all symptoms of Herpes. (also a cold sore!)
- The disease can also be transmitted by kissing someone who has a cold sore. Avoid kissing. Be especially careful when hugging or kissing babies and children if you have a cold sore.
- Please note that any contact with an infected genital increases the risk of infection.
- If you are pregnant, inform the treating physician immediately of the situation to avoid unnecessary risks for the baby.
- Do not wear tight pants during an attack. Wear comfortable clothing that does not pinch.
- Stress increases the risk of Herpes attacks. Avoid stress as much as possible.
- Only wash the infected areas of skin with water and gently pat dry.