Genital herpes is a common sexually transmitted disease (STD) that can be gotten by any sexually active person.

And this is because most people with the virus don't have symptoms. It is even believed that those without signs of the disease can still infect their sex partners with it.

The disease is, however, caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV), of which there are two types.

Type 1 (HSV-1) usually causes oral herpes, an infection of the lips and mouth. And the common symptoms are cold sores or fever blisters.

Before now, the simplex virus was not known to cause genital herpes; but things seem to be changing especially among people who started having sex at a young age.

However, with regards to most cases, genital herpes is caused by the second type of herpes virus (HSV-2) which lives in the nerves.

The virus travels to the surface of the infected area and duplicates itself when it is active. And this process of duplication is known as "shedding" simply because these new viruses can, at this time, rub off on another person.

Then the virus travels back down the nerve to a ganglion (mass of nerve tissue), usually at the base of the spine, where it lies dormant for a while.

Symptoms of genital herpes

The symptoms of HSV infection are several and distinct. For common infection, the skin or mucosa may affect the face and mouth (orofacial herpes), genitalia (genital herpes), or hands (herpetic whitlow).

But there are other cases where more serious disorders occur, and this can be said to be when the virus infects and damages the eye (herpes keratitis), or invades the central nervous system, thus damaging the brain (herpes encephalitis).

Research has shown that people with frail immune systems, such as newborns, transplant recipients, or people with AIDS, are prone to severe complications from HSV infections.

In addition to the above symptoms, the infection has also been associated with cognitive deficits of bipolar disorder and Alzheimer's disease. Although in most cases, this depends on the one that is infected.

Signs to look out for

While most of the time it is common not to see the symptoms of herpes in people, which often lead to the assumption that they are clean, the following symptoms should be observed:

The best way to avoid genital herpes (and other STIs) is to use a condom. However, condoms do not provide full protection as the virus can be spread by skin-to-skin contact in areas not covered by it.

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Preventing/ managing herpes

Presently, there is no known cure for the ailment. While abstaining from random sex would help, making use of condom during sex might also do well with regard to prevention.

In addition, avoid body contacts and sharing of wears that could easily retain the bodily fluids of an infected person.

Expectant mothers that are infected should report themselves to a doctor that will guide them on what to do in other to deliver an uninfected child.

However, genital herpes is medically managed with antiviral medications that can help curb the severity and duration of outbreaks, if taken immediately prior to (when there are tingling or unusual skin sensations but no blisters) or within 24 hours of an outbreak.