Genital Herpes - Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Prevention

Genital Herpes

Dr.Sajjan R. Agarwal profile Authored by Dr.Sajjan R. Agarwal on 26 Nov 2014 - 14:13.

Genital Herpes

Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) which is usually characterized by painful sores in the genital parts. It is a contagious viral infection with a Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) that can affect both men and women via sexual contact. The HSV virus exists in two forms, HSV1 and HSV2 and both can infect the genital area or mouth. Once infected, the virus can sustain in the body in a dormant state in the nerve tissue and an outbreak can occur several times. Although it can affect anybody who is sexually active, it is more common in people aged between 14 - 49 years, affecting one out of every six people.

Two forms of Herpes simplex virus may infect people causing genital herpes:

HSV-1: Affects mouth, causing cold ulcers, but may spread to genital parts through oral sex. It is rare and the flare-ups of this infection are also less than HSV 2 infection.

HSV-2:It is most common infection that causes genital herpes affecting the skin and mucus in the genital parts exposed to sexual contact. Women are more prone to the HSV-2 infection when compared to men.

The majority of people infected with HSV may not show any symptom and go undiagnosed. However, they can transmit the disease. In the rest of the cases, symptoms are usually seen after about ten days of exposure to the HSV. Following are some of the common symptoms in the genital area :

  • Swelling in the groin
  • Pain, irritation and itching
  • Painful urination
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Tenderness
  • Red or while blisters
  • Ulcers and sores
  • Oozing or bleeding
  • Scabs
  • Muscle pain
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Reduced appetite

During recurrence, symptoms developed are often less severe than before. The signs of upcoming recurrence may include:

  • Itching and burning
  • Back pain
  • Pain in the thighs, knees and buttocks

When to see a doctor?

Immediately, as you experience these symptoms like persistent itching and irritation and blisters in the genital area which do not go on its own and if other symptoms mentioned above are visible.

Tests and diagnosis

The diagnosis of genital herpes often begins with physical examination followed by several tests and procedure:

Physical exam: To look for visible signs like blisters, ulcers and swelling.

Culture assessment: Sample tissue from affected portion is scrapped and then examined to confirm the infection.

Blood test: To examine samples of blood for traces of HSV infection.

Polymerase chain reaction (PCR): Examining DNA to find out the presence of HSV and to determine its type. 

Following factors may increase the risk of getting infected with herpes simplex virus:

  • Being a women
  • Sexually active with multiple people
  • Having unprotected sex.


Untreated or poorly managed genital herpes may create a space for the development of other clinical problems. These may include:

  • Increased risk of other STDs including  acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS)
  • Complications in pregnancy
  • Severe birth defects in babies born to infected mothers and may be death of the fetus may also occur
  • Severe bladder complications
  • Inflammation of the membrane covering the brain and spinal cord (meningitis)
  • Inflammation of the rectal lining (especially in gays)

Unfortunately none of the treatment measure can cure genital herpes completely. However, medication and several other approaches may minimize the severity of the symptoms and risk of infection spread. Following are three approaches:

Drugs and medications: Doctor may prescribe suitable antiviral drugs (E.g. Acyclovir, Valacycloviretc) to-

  • Promote the healing of ulcers
  • Relieve pain and itching
  • Minimize the severity of symptoms
  • Minimize the flare-ups
  • Minimize the transmission of HSV

Unfortunately, these antiviral medications may have certain side effects like fatigue, rashes, epilepsy, nausea and vomiting, etc.

Approach manages pregnancy while having genital herpes: Experts may prescribe medications to prevent outbreak during the delivery. In case there is an outbreak while giving birth, C-section will be performed to save the baby.

Home remedies and caring tips:

  • Take pain killers available as over-the-counter (OTC) medicines (E.g. Paracetamol, ibuprofen, etc.)
  • Soak the ulcerated part with warm water
  • Keep the genital parts dry
  • Use cotton undergarments

Alternative medicines:

Propolis (a reddish brown resinous substance collected by honey bees): Ointment containing Propolis (4 times/ day) can significantly speed up the healing of ulcers in patients with genital herpes compared to that of ointments containing antiviral drugs.

Thuja (evergreen tree containing red cedar) cream: Application of Thuja containing cream helps to encounter the irritation and itching caused due to blisters.

Mind-body connection: With the help of experts, one can get trained in clinical hypnosis or guided imaginary to foster healing and prevent further flare ups.

Traditional Chinese Medicine: It is believed to enhance the immunity thereby promoting healing and also keep the virus in a dormant state.

Ethyl ether : Applying ether drops on ulcers in adequate quantity can promote the healing.

Herbs and Supplements: A variety of herbs and supplements may help to relieve symptoms and manage the condition by reducing severity and rate of recurrence. These may include:

  • Prunella vulgaris (common self-heal)
  • Edible mushroom
  • Cortinariuscaperatus
  • Galangal
  • Lapacho
  • Astragalus
  • Cat's claw
  • Licorice
  • Cayenne
  • Thyme, etc.


  • L-lysine (500-1,000 mg/ day on as a first food on empty stomach)
  • Monolaurin(obtained from lauric acid) 1.5 gm /a day for about two weeks
  • Zinc supplement
  • Vitamin B complex and vitamin C
  • Turmeric extract

Diet Recommendations:

Diet is always important. Here are exclusive recommendations for those who are coping with genital herpes:

What to eat?

  • Foods rich in lysine such as dairy products like cheese, curd, milk, fresh fruits like mango, apple, pears, fish and poultry meat and vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, beets and potatoes.
  • Other fruits
  • Peppers
  • Asparagus
  • Garlic
  • Olive Leaf
  • Lime juice
  • Foods rich in vitamin B and antioxidants. E.g. brown ice, bananas, mushrooms, lemon, ginger and green tea, etc.

What to avoid?

  • Foods rich in arginine:

  • Nuts
  • Wheat
  • Oats
  • Chocolate products
  • Seeds
  • Orange juice
  • Coconut
  • Protein supplements
  • Alcohol, especially beer
  • Sugar
  • Beef
  • Junk food
  • Artificial flavors or sweeteners

Preventive measures to avoid STDs like genital herpes may include:

  • Protected sex by using latex condoms (either partner can use).
  • Avoid sex if the partner is a known case of HSV infection.
  • Take extra care during pregnancy by consulting your doctor frequently.
  • Strictly avoid multiple sex partners.
*Disclaimer This is not medical advice. The content is for educational purposes only. Please contact your doctor for any health care issues.