Sex and STDs – You can’t get rid of the virus with genital herpes | Knowledge & Environment | DW

Herpes viruses are widespread. This is especially true for cold sores, caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1, HSV 1 for short. Antibodies against this virus are found in the blood of 90 percent of all adults in Germany. The Viruses remain in the nerve ganglia throughout life, often referred to as nerve nodes. You can become active again at any time. That also applies to this Herpes simplex virus type 2, HSV 2. It is a trigger for genital herpes.

The herpes simplex virus type 2 is responsible for genital herpes

Herpes viruses are mainly transmitted through skin or mucous membrane contact. The viruses really take root. 80 to 90 percent of genital infections are caused by the herpes simplex virus type 2. But the problem has shifted due to the changed sexual activities and sexual practices, says Norbert Brockmeyer Center for sexual health and medicine in Bochum. “We are seeing herpes simplex 1 in the genital area and herpes simplex 2 on the lips more and more frequently. This is now happening more frequently than it used to be. Oral sex probably has an influence on the localization of these herpes simplex types.”

When it itches and tingles

The first symptoms of an infection with the herpes virus type 2 are pain, itching and tingling, and the lymph nodes swell. Burning and discharge can also indicate a genital herpes infection.

“Herpes viruses almost always cause lesions on the skin,” explains Brockmeyer, an expert in sexually transmitted infections, STI. Shortly after an infection, smaller groups of standing blisters form in the genital area. They settle in the vagina and on the penis, but the urethra and rectum can also be affected.

The blisters are sensitive and burst as the disease progresses. After that, crusts form in these places. They are also contagious. “In the case of a first manifestation, there can be very serious clinical pictures,” says Brockmeyer. “The eyes can also be affected by herpes simplex.”

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Herpes viruses stay in the body

You can’t get rid of the herpes virus, there are always recurrences. “Some people have an episode once a year or every two years. In the context of the menstrual period, herpes simplex can also occur every four weeks in women.”

Herpes simplex viruses can be released even when there are no obvious symptoms. “Those affected have no lesions, but the virus is still present in the mucous membranes and can also be transmitted,” explains Brockmeyer. However, most infections occur through sexual contact.

In order to secure the diagnosis based on these external symptoms, the doctor usually takes a swab. The pathogens can then be precisely determined in the laboratory. The symptoms usually heal within about two weeks. Strong sunlight, but also stress, direct mechanical irritation during sexual intercourse or a non-functioning immune system can activate the virus. Herpes simplex viruses are unpredictable, and that goes for both types.

The herpes virus can be transmitted during childbirth

Transmission from mother to child is possible

If the expectant mother is infected with the herpes virus 2, it can happen that she transmits the virus to her child at birth. “If there are lesions, the mother should be treated before birth so that the virus is suppressed,” advises Brockmeyer. About half of all babies born to infected mothers are infected during birth. The only way to avoid this is to have a cesarean section.

There is no cure, but there is an effective therapy

There is no vaccination. Doctors can treat the symptoms of genital herpes but cannot kill the virus in the body. Doctors treat the disease with antiviral drugs. Such drugs can promote healing in the acute stage and at least reduce the risk of the virus multiplying. “In the case of frequent recurrences, long-term therapy over several weeks and months should also be considered,” recommends Brockmeyer.

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Until the blisters have healed, you should avoid touching the corresponding parts of the body and then the following applies in any case: only have sex with a condom!

This article was published on November 23, 2018 and updated on December 12, 2022.

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