Genital Herpes: A Highly Infectious Disease

Arab News Staff
Publication Date: 
Wed, 2003-04-30 03:00

RIYADH, 30 April 2003 — Genital herpes is a viral infection caused by the herpes simplex virus or HSV. There are two types of HSV, and both can cause genital herpes. HSV-1 most commonly infects the lips causing sores known as fever blisters or cold sores. HSV-2 is transmitted sexually and is usually the primary cause of the disease.

A person who has genital herpes infection can easily pass or transmit the virus to an uninfected person during sex. Genital herpes is highly infectious and affects millions of people worldwide. But about 80 percent of patients don’t know they are infected. Although there is no cure for genital herpes, there are effective oral antiviral medications that can help patients manage the condition.

Both HSV-1 and HSV-2 can produce sores in and around the vaginal area, on the penis, around the anal opening, and on the buttocks or thighs. Occasionally, sores also appear on other parts of the body where the virus has entered through broken skin. HSV remains in certain nerve cells of the body for life, and can produce symptoms off and on in some infected people.According to survey results presented at the 10th annual International Herpes Management Forum (IHMF) scientific congress held in Paris recently, there are a number of unmet patient needs and concerns in the management of genital herpes. The results were based on two surveys of 2,075 patients and 622 physicians from more than 90 countries including Saudi Arabia. The survey proved that fear and shame were the main reasons that exacerbate the disease. IHMF guidelines recommended that genital herpes infection be diagnosed by a direct test such as culture in addition to visual examination. One-third of patient survey respondents (34 percent) said their physicians diagnosed them by visual examination alone.

“A diagnosis of genital herpes can be challenging because many patients do not display physical signs or symptoms of the infection,” said Lawrence Stanberry of the University of Texas and an IHMF board member. “This survey reinforces the importance of using viral cultures and blood tests in addition to physical exams to make the most accurate diagnosis possible,” he said.

IHMF comprises international specialists involved in all aspects of the clinical management of herpes virus infections. Through debate and an exchange of knowledge, the forum aims to provide practical guidelines for healthcare professionals who treat herpes virus infections. Nearly all physicians who took part in the survey rated genital herpes as a serious infection. About 99 percent of them thought genital herpes affected their patients’ sex lives. Of the patients interviewed, 76 percent said they visited doctors after experiencing physical symptoms such as lesions, blisters and rash.

“The three major concerns of patients upon diagnosis were the impact on their sex/love life (53 percent), whether genital herpes had a cure (37 percent) and how easily the virus can be passed to others (36 percent),” the survey results said. An overwhelming majority (93 percent) said the genital herpes affected their sex life.

Less than one-third of patient respondents (30 percent) said they used medication daily. Another 21 percent reported they did not know they could take a medication every day. Studies show that suppressive therapy with oral antiviral medications can help reduce the number and severity of outbreaks. Most people get genital herpes by having sex with someone who is having a herpes outbreak. When active, the virus usually causes visible sores in the genital area. The sores cast off viruses that can infect another person. People often get genital herpes by having sexual contact with others who don’t know they are infected or who are having outbreaks of herpes without any sores.

Unfortunately, most people who have genital herpes don’t know it because they never have any symptoms, or they do not recognize any symptoms they might have. When there are symptoms, they can be different in each person. Most often, when a person becomes infected with herpes for the first time, the symptoms will appear within two to 10 days. These first episodes of symptoms usually last two to three weeks. Early symptoms of a genital herpes outbreak include itching or burning feeling in the genital or anal area, pain in the legs, buttocks, or genital area, discharge of fluid from the vagina, and feeling of pressure in the abdomen. Within a few days, sores appear near where the virus has entered the body, such as on the mouth, penis, or vagina. Small red bumps appear first, develop into blisters, and then become painful open sores. Some other symptoms that may go with the first episode of genital herpes are fever, headache, muscle aches, painful or difficult urination, vaginal discharge, and swollen glands in the groin area.

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