Testing for Herpes
Testing for Herpes Type 2 includes a visual inspection of the genital area to look for blisters, vesicles, and ulcers. If you notice changes like this in the genital region, seek medical attention so that a physician can visually inspect the lesion as well. After visual inspection, your doctor may collect a swab or cell-scraping of the lesion for confirmation of the diagnosis. Many cases of HSV-2 have no symptoms other than the appearance of the lesion, so it is important to tell your doctor if you notice any ulcer-like changes in the genital area. The initial lesion may be more difficult to detect in women than in men since areas of skin not visible may contain the lesion. In men, the ulcer can appear on the penis, and scrotum, but can also erupt on the upper thigh region or on the buttocks.
What is HSV-2?
HSV-2 is most commonly referred to as genital herpes, although lesions can appear anywhere on the body. It is considered a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Notifying sexual partners once a diagnosis has been made may be difficult, but it is vital to minimize consequences to individuals as well as to the public.
Genital herpes is comprised of an organism called a virus, not a bacterium. Because of this, antibiotics do not work on genital herpes. There are antiviral medications available that may reduce the frequency, duration, and severity of outbreaks. Like HSV-1, one can never be “cured” of the virus because it hibernates in the body between outbreaks.
HSV-2 is passed from person to person by sexual contact. This sexual contact may include oral sex, anal sex, penile-vaginal sex, and other sex acts where direct skin contact is made. Because the lesion may not be on the shaft or head of the penis, condoms do not always protect from the transmission of HSV-2 from one partner to another.The virus is transmittable through sexual intercourse from one person to another regardless of whether a lesion is painful or not. It is also transmittable regardless of whether it can be seen on the external genitalia or if it’s internal. Like HSV-1, the first lesion is usually the most protracted and painful.
HSV-2 can be transmitted from a mother to an infant through passage through the birth canal. When this occurs, the virus may also affect the neonate’s eyes and skin.
It is estimated that over fifty million people in the United States alone are carriers of this virus. New cases arise every year. The infection is not limited to New York or the United States. Herpes infections can be found in every country in the world. Many millions of dollars have been spent in an effort to discover a vaccine for HSV-2, but none has been discovered to date.
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Dr. Gafanovich is performing STD testing as a part of her annual check up .
Symptoms of Herpes 2
The primary symptom of HSV-2 in both men and women is the appearance of a lesion in the form of a blister, a cluster of vesicles, or an ulcer. Symptoms may be very different for men and women. In women, lesions may be very difficult to see because they may occur inside the vagina or the cervical canal. When the vesicles burst, pain and tenderness may occur, usually prompting a woman to seek medical attention. In men, the ulcers are easier to visualize but are not always painful. It is important not to dismiss medical examination simply due to lack of pain. The virus is contagious during all phases of infection whether the lesion is painful or not.
Lesions typically last from seven to ten days. They are usually self-limiting, but in rare cases the virus can spread to other parts of the body and cause more severe consequences.
In addition to lesions, an individual may have flu-like symptoms or tingling in a localized region of the genitalia. Fatigue, fever, and swollen lymph nodes may also occur during the early phase of an outbreak.
HSV-2 can be contracted at any age, and both genders are equally represented. Risk factors include unprotected sex with multiple partners, underlying illness, and a comprised immune system.
Treatment of HSV-2
Antiviral medications are the treatment of choice to directly target the virus. As with most medications, there are potential side effects associated with antiviral medication including nausea, upset stomach, or mild fever. There are also topical products that address individual symptoms of the disease, but these products are not curative.
Although the lesions are usually self-limiting, early diagnosis and treatment are vital for several reasons. First, administration of antiviral medications can reduce the frequency, duration, and severity of outbreaks. Second, if the virus were to spread to another part of the body, such as the brain, life-saving treatment may be provided sooner if health care professionals are aware of the infection. Third, it is very important that once a diagnosis is made, a patient should be educated regarding when the virus is contagious and about ways to prevent spreading the virus to sexual partners.
Herpes tends to erupt more frequently when initially acquired, and can occur more than 12 times in the first year or two. The frequency generally abates the longer you have had the infection. Abstaining from sexual contact of any kind during an outbreak will protect your partner from acquiring the infection, so it is very important to know when you are shedding the virus and are contagious. In people with underlying health conditions that compromise the immune system (such as AIDS, pneumonia, or other immunodeficiencies), outbreaks may occur more frequently and with more severity. And although condoms do not always prevent spread of the infection, safe sex with a condom certainly reduces the risk of spread.