What is genital herpes?
Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection. It is caused by a highly contagious virus that is divided into two types:
Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) most often causes labial or oral herpes, which is usually located on the lips, often referred to as a cold sore.
Herpes simplex type 2 (HSV-2) most often causes genital herpes, resulting in blisters and tender sores in the anogenital area.
More than 80% of the population have labial herpes. Approximately 20% of the population have genital herpes (of which approximately 60% is caused by HSV-2 and 40% by HSV-1).
How is herpes transmitted?
Close physical contact, typically during vaginal, anal or oral sex.
Herpes is not transmittable via toilet seats, towels, cutlery or in swimming pools.
Previously infection with HSV-2 seem to protect against HSV-1 acquisition1.
People infected with HSV-1 on the other hand, can be infected with HSV-2, but the symptoms of HSV-2 will typically be less pronounced if you have had labial herpes.
Women typically experience more pronounced symptoms than men.
Risk of infecting other people
It is possible to transmit the virus to another person even though you are without symptoms.
The risk is higher though if you have symptoms. When there are herpes outbreaks with blisters, sores or erosions in the mucous membrane or the
genital skin you should avoid having sex until the mucous membrane feels normal again.
If you have cold sores, you should avoid oral sex, as this can transfer to the genitals.
You should inform your partner that you have genital herpes, so you can avoid having sex when there are outbreaks of herpes.
If you have not previously been infected with HSV, the risk of contracting herpes is very low if you consistently use a condom.
What are the symptoms?
Approximately 4-7 days after being infected, you will typically develop small groups of painful blisters and redness on the mucosa or skin of the genitals. The blisters burst after a few days, leaving painful sores that heal after 2-3 weeks,
leaving no scars.
The first outbreak of herpes is usually the worst. There can be multiple blisters and sores, swollen glands in the groin (inguinal area) as well as flu-like symptoms and fever. The sores can also be present near the urethra and cause urethral discharge and a burning sensation when urinating.
Many people will not notice that they have been infected with genital herpes.
Once infected, the virus will permanently be situated in the central root of the nerves connected to the infected area of the skin/mucosa, and can be reactivated repeatedly.
People infected with HSV-1 often experience fewer outbreaks than those infected with HSV-2.
Outbreaks of herpes can be provoked by stress, any disease that weakens the immune system, as well as the menstruation (”periods”) for women.
There are treatments available, such as Aciclovir, Valaciclovir or Famvir, that shortens the time of a symptomatic infection, but there is no available cure to eradicate the virus entirely from the body.
The primary infection is often more severe and is therefore treated for 10 days whereas recurrent infections are treated for 5 days.
If you experience more than 6 recurrences per year, you might be given prophylactic treatment. The treatment is without significant side effects.
In general, the medication should be started as soon as possible after noticing onset of symptoms (preferently within the first 24 hours). It may be a good idea to have the medication at home, or make sure to have a prescription ready in case you need it.
Pregnancy and newborn
All pregnant women with known genital herpes should consult their general practitioner and midwife about the risk of transferring genital herpes to their newborns.
If a woman who is pregnant has never had a cold sore or genital herpes and has a partner who is known with genital herpes, you should use a condom and avoid oral sex for the last few weeks of the pregnancy.
If the newborn is infected at birth, the infection can become life-threatening. If the woman is known with genital herpes (prior to the pregnancy), the newborns is practically never infected.
The newborn child should not be in contact with people who have an outbreak of cold sores on the lips as there is a risk that the child can get infected.
See the opening hours of the clinic at www.bispebjerghospital. dk
Where is the clinic located?
The clinic is located at Bispebjerg Hospital on Nielsine Nielsens Vej 3, Indgang 5, 1st floor. At the hospital’s website there is an interactive map of the hospital