Genital Herpes

7 Things Men Must Know About Genital Herpes

Herpes is a sexually-transmitted infection (STI) that affects a large number of people. You can get one when you come into contact with an infected area of someone’s skin. It causes recurrent breakouts of painful and itchy sores or blisters. That is why most patients misdiagnose the lesions or fail to recognize them.

Two viruses cause genital herpes: the HSV-1 and HSV-2 viruses. According to the WHO, most people with genital herpes have the HSV-2 virus rather than the HSV-1 virus. The virus remains latent in the body after infection and can reactivate at any time. As a result, most people have no idea that they have herpes.

Genital herpes is more common among women. In 2016, almost 16% of women in the US had the HSV-2 virus, while only 8% of men had it. While that is the case, men should not get too lenient over this fact. As much as possible, you need to know more about the disease to avoid getting it or spreading it to other people.

1.  There is no cure for genital herpes, but you can treat it

Herpes does not have a cure, but it is manageable.

Most herpes outbreaks resolve on their own, even without using any medications. But, to shorten its stay, there are medicines available on the market. These antiviral drugs operate by stopping the virus from replicating and spreading through your cells.

After having your infection tested, your doctor will prescribe you the right medicine to treat your infection. These medicines can be oral or topical antivirals.

Treatment for genital herpes without a prescription works, too. These over-the-counter medications help relieve discomfort and speed up your recovery. They can be numbing agents with ingredients like lidocaine or benzocaine. Some of them can even be oral pain relievers or creams with 1% hydrocortisone.

While these genital herpes treatments are available, they work best with antiviral prescription drugs.

2.  Most people with the disease don’t show any symptoms

Symptoms of genital herpes are not always present. You may not even be aware that you have herpes until you transmit the virus to someone else.

The herpes virus remains latent in your body after an outbreak. That means you’ll always have it even if there are no obvious symptoms. But this does not mean you can have sex without using protection. During a latent phase, you can still infect someone with the virus, but the risk is usually lower.

3.  If you do have it, you will undergo different stages of herpes

If you have genital herpes, you can either have no symptoms or go through different stages of an outbreak. Usually, early symptoms occur within 2 to 10 days.

1st Stage: Prodrome

The prodrome is when herpes symptoms appear, signaling the beginning of an infection.

During this stage, you will experience redness, itching, discomfort, or burning in and around the affected area. Some people also have flu-like symptoms like fevers, headaches, and swollen glands.

The pain you will feel can also appear in the legs, buttocks, or hips. These symptoms are usually severe if it is your first herpes breakout. Even without sores or blisters at this stage, the skin is infectious and stays so throughout the outbreak.

2nd Stage: Blister

You will know that you are at the second stage when there are little red lumps on your genitals. These lumps are filled with clear to white-ish to yellow fluid. They can be highly painful and sensitive. Blisters occur in clusters, and the skin around the fluid-filled blisters appears red and inflamed.

3rd Stage: Ulcer

When the blisters rupture and discharge, open sores (ulcers) will appear. They look like pinkish or reddish lesions that leak fluid or even bleed. These open sores are more irritating and painful during this stage than during the blister stage.

Ulcers eventually produce a fluid that solidifies and forms a crust over the wound. Crusts and scabs form when a wet region dries up. But, since the genital area is usually moist, the herpes healing stage takes a very long time.

4th Stage: Healing

Healing time varies from 2 to 6 weeks. If it is your first time experiencing genital herpes, it can take a long time. Healing of ulcers is a lot quicker if you have a history of genital herpes.

The ulcer begins to heal from the outside as crusts and scabs grow over it. It is unusual to have itchy skin during the healing process. When the scab or crust fractures, it can lead to bleeding. When they have come off, the area may still look red or pink for a long time, and you can experience scarring.

4.  Using condoms can’t keep you from spreading the virus

The use of condoms can help minimize the risk of contracting or spreading the illness but, it is far from being foolproof.

Genital herpes lesions can appear anywhere around the genitals. In most cases, having contact with these lesions spreads the virus. Condoms only prevent the direct transfer of such sexually-transmitted diseases.

People can still get herpes through asymptomatic shedding. This is when the virus spreads from one part of the genital region to another. Condoms do not cover every part of your genital area, and the infected area may still be exposed. Getting into contact with this area can transmit the virus to your sexual partner.

Additionally, oral sex contributes to the spread of genital herpes. People don’t usually use condoms and dental dams during oral intercourse. They don’t provide total protection even when you use them correctly.

5.  Genital herpes can’t be tested unless you have obvious symptoms

If you’re one of the people who don’t have obvious symptoms, you can’t get tested. Without symptoms, standard swab tests will not detect the presence of HSV-2. Blood testing will only reveal whether you’ve been exposed to antibodies. According to the CDC, there is also a chance of getting false-positive results.

The doctor will need to get a swab from the sores around your genitals. That is when they can test it in the lab for infection. It is the same for genital herpes in women. You can only confirm if you have herpes on your vagina when your symptoms show up. But, your doctor can already tell if you have genital herpes by the look of your lesions.

While waiting for the results, they will recommend some antibacterial drugs. Once the results are in, that is when they can prescribe you medicine as a genital herpes treatment.

6.  You can still get genital herpes even without engaging in penetrative sex

Even without direct vaginal or anal intercourse, you can still transmit and get the virus. If your partner has herpes on their vagina and you have physical contact with it, you can still get it.

If your partner has cold sores, you can also get genital herpes during oral sex. The cold sore virus is related to the genital herpes virus. That is, the HSV-2 virus that causes sores on your genitals can also give you cold sores. That is why you and your partner should avoid oral intercourse until the sores heal.

7.  It helps to know the difference between a yeast infection and herpes

Yeast infections don’t always occur in the vagina. Men can also get yeast infections in their genitals since the fungus Candida is present on moist skin. An overgrowth of this fungus can lead to yeast infections. When you get a yeast infection on your genitals, you’ll experience swelling on the head of your penis.

Vaginal yeast infections are more common than penile yeast infections, but both may feel like genital herpes. That is because some of the symptoms of yeast infections are the same as those of genital herpes. These symptoms include:

  • Itching
  • Irritation
  • Thick discharge
  • Painful urination

When you experience such things, you should go to a doctor and have your infection tested. You can buy yeast infection treatments at your local drugstore. But, they differ from genital herpes medications.

Yeast infection medications include creams and ointments with antifungal properties. Over-the-counter genital herpes medications vary depending on the cause. But, most have antiviral and antibacterial properties.

What Can You Do to Avoid Having and Spreading Genital Herpes?

You can get genital herpes if you have skin-to-skin contact with someone who has it. That is why you need to avoid having physical contact with someone’s genitals without protection.

But almost everyone has sex at some point in their life. Having safe sex, such as using condoms, is the best way to prevent getting and spreading genital herpes. It also helps to ask your sexual partner for things like this. Some people are asymptomatic, but they can still spread HSV viruses.

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