Hey girl do you know what those clusters of raised bumps or blisters around your mouth or genitals are? These group of bumps could be caused by Herpes Simplex Virus. This virus is of two types: Herpes Simplex Virus type-1 (HSV-1) and Herpes Simplex Virus Type- 2 (HSV-2). There are two types of herpes infection, oral and genital herpes. The prevalence and incidence of HSV-2 is high at 51% – 81%  in a systematic review so it is a global burden in Africa.

What exactly is oral or Genital Herpes?

Oral herpes are cold sores found on the lips or around the mouth. In much of Africa, it is more commonly known as “fever blisters”.

Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease which forms group of pimples / cluster of raised bumps on the vulva or in the vagina which break and turn into sores. Mostly, the oral herpes is caused by HSV-1 but the genital herpes is caused by both HSV-1 & 2.

HSV-1 and HSV-2 are highly contagious even if there are no visible blisters.

Women are more susceptible to HSV-2 and are four times more likely to contract it because of the wider surface area of the genitals. Women who have sex with women have an elevated risk. It is a very common sexually transmitted infection. Research has shown that most infected women are unaware of this infection because they are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms which go unnoticed, or are mistaken for different skin conditions like Urinary Tract Infection (UTI), pimples, a cut while shaving and inflamed ingrown pubic hair. Moreover, the female reproductive tract does not make the ulcers, blisters or lesions easily visible. Typical areas where genital herpes can erupt are on the thighs, vulva, anal area and buttocks, but is not limited to these because the point of contact is always the site of eruption.

On exposure to HSV-1 & 2 through sex (oral or penetration) or kissing, symptoms usually appear after 14 days or a fortnight but the virus can be inactive for many years. Clinical manifestation of herpes is called an outbreak. It differs in every individual and the first, initial or primary outbreak differs from subsequent ones. In a year, an infected woman can have between 5 – 7 outbreaks. Over time the number of outbreaks reduces or declines and becomes milder and heals faster.

Stress, onset of menses, pregnancy, friction from non-cotton underwear and poor diet can trigger the rate of recurrent outbreaks.

These are the initial symptoms that affect the body for both HSV-1 & 2:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Tiredness
  •  Body and Genital itching
  • Headache
  • Swollen Glands in the Throat

If it is oral herpes HSV-1 there may be no symptoms.

The ulcers or blisters from the primary infection lasts for 14 – 28 days.

Photo Credit: VeryWellHealth.

In the course of the outbreak for genital herpes the painful and itchy group of bumps break open /open up and turn to sores at the site of infection. Recurrent outbreaks give you signs it’s about time and these is called prodromal symptoms. For women it could be an itch or tingling sensation on the site which usually occurs hours or a few days before the lesions erupt. Herpes always reoccurs at the same site of the primary/first infection. Viral shedding is when the infected is contagious and as such sex should be avoided totally till lesions are completely healed.

A pregnant woman can infect her baby at birth via vaginal delivery if there was an outbreak few weeks before birth and if lesions are present. A Caesarean section is the best option for women in this situation.  With vaginal blisters, menstrual cups are not encouraged except when healed.

There is a connection between HIV and HERPES because ulcers or blisters make the virus transmission easy. Women living with herpes are three times more likely to contract HIV on exposure to it.

Is there a CURE?

Herpes has no CURE except suppressive medication against the virus during outbreaks or as a daily dose to reduce the number of episodes. Medications are antiviral drugs which can only be accessed and prescribed by a medical doctor or physician. These group of drugs can have harmful effects, therefore do not combine with other medicines (herbal inclusive) without your doctor knowing.

Consistent condom use does not guard against contracting herpes because viral shedding can occur in uncovered parts. Abstinence is the 100% reliable means of staying free from any STI and a monogamous long-term relationship could also be reliable.

Above all, even though genital herpes is highly contagious with no cure, it is manageable and millions live with it. Be open to your partner, practice safe sex, and be sincere in your relationships. It will make the world a better place for us all.