What is Vaginal Herpes?
Vaginal Herpes is a common sexually transmitted disease that affects women. It is caused by Herpes simplex Virus (HSV), which enters the body through sexual contact by skin to skin contact of mucous covered linings of mouth or genitals. The virus enters from an infected person into the body of the sexual partner. The virus settles in the nerve roots near your spinal cord. It does not go away.
There are two types of HSV. Type 1 usually causes an infection in mouth and lips and is known as oral herpes. Type 2 generally causes genital sores and lesions in and around the anus. Historically it was believed that each type caused different ailments, now it is known that both types are capable of producing vaginal herpes outbreaks.
The outbreak of herpes is very much related to functioning of the immune system. Those women who have tried to suppress immune system due to stress or some infection or taken medications for that are more at a risk of getting frequent and long lasting herpes outbreaks, including vaginal herpes outbreaks.
Almost always, the first vaginal herpes outbreak causes more pain and is more long lasting than recurring ones. There are significant risks of complications during the first vaginal herpes outbreak. She may have lesions on the cervix, inside the vagina, in the vulva or even the urethra. Some lesions might be found on thighs or buttocks.
That first outbreak may last for 3 weeks because the blisters contain a huge number of infectious virus particles. When the woman is showing symptoms, the classic visible sign of a primary genital infection of HSV 1 or HSV 2 looks like cold sores on the surface of the genital areas. There will be a cluster of inflamed papules that are irritating.
Once an initial vaginal herpes outbreak occurs and the virus settles into the nerve cells, it will travel through her nerve fibers to the site of the original infection the next time it occurs. There is no way to predict subsequent outbreaks. They might be weekly or possibly even years apart. Once the HSV gets into the skin cells it begins reproducing and multiplying and the skin gets inflamed. Other secondary symptoms may then begin such as itching, discolored vaginal discharge and vaginal herpes blisters and vaginal herpes lesions.
Symptoms of Vaginal Herpes
It is believed that a high majority of women suffer from this vaginal herpes but it often goes unnoticed due infrequent or absent symptoms. A woman who has lesions inside the vagina may suffer from pelvic pain and discharge. Also lesions in urethra may occur but care should be taken so that it is not misdiagnosed. The lesions must always be tested for Herpes.
Women who suffer from HSV may not even know that they have been infected. The signs and symptoms of HSV are sometimes a bit too mild to get noticed. The first outbreak is the most severe and the second may or may not appear. The earliest symptoms may include:
- An itching or burning sensation
- Pain in legs, buttocks or vaginal area
- Vaginal discharge
- Feeling of fullness or pressure in the abdomen area
After the initial symptoms, a woman can experience lesions or sores at the site of the infection. The sores occur in the vagina, cervix and the urinary passage. They look like red bumps at first but later develop into blisters and sores that may ooze or bleed too. After many days the sores become crusted and heal. They don’t leave any scar. After the first outbreak, it is erratic. Those lesions, even after they are healed are a primary access point for other sexually transmitted diseases because of the vulnerable skin tissue. 
Here is how the Herpes virus works:
- The first outbreak takes place usually within 2 to 20 days after contact and may continue up to 2 weeks.
- Once the virus attacks, there is an incubation period that may last for 3-7 days before a lesion is developed.
- Sometimes the symptoms of HSV are too mild to take note of and it may take longer and be less severe in people who have partial immunity to the virus from having oral herpes or cold sores.
- The first outbreak is so harsh because the person has not been exposed to this virus before and the antibodies are unable to trigger the immune response.
- The virus always resides within the nerves in the body.
- It travels to the vaginal areas when the outbreak happens.
- But, when it is healed, the virus does not get dead.
- Herpes viruses return to the nerve and stay dormant until the next outbreak.
During an outbreak, the ulcers may cause considerable pain during urination. The woman is likely to experience tenderness or pain in the vaginal area until the infection heals. Some women get a rash or some small bumps resembling pimples. Also, during the first outbreak, women may have flu type symptoms such as fever, headaches, muscle aches or swollen lymph nodes in the vaginal area. The distressing fact is these signs and symptoms may occur again for years. It is true that over time the frequency and sometimes the severity of vaginal herpes outbreaks reduces.
If you have a healthy immune system you may never experience a Herpes virus infection but that is not a guarantee. These are some factors that trigger the outbreaks:
- Stress or fatigue
- Illness or Surgery
- Medications that suppress the immune system such as steroids or chemotherapy
- Friction caused by vigorous sexual intercourse
HSV 1, that affects the mouth, by causing cold sores or fever blisters, can spread to the vaginal area through oral sex. Hence becoming vaginal herpes. HSV 2 usually causes vaginal herpes and the virus spreads through sexual contact. This type of the virus is very common and highly contagious even if you do not have an open sore. So, it may happen that the virus has a high chance of spreading as it goes undetected. The good news is that when the Herpes virus is outside the body it dies very quickly. So, you cannot spread the viral infection through any non-living objects, such as towels, toilets or other objects used by the infected person.
Vaginal Herpes Pictures
Vaginal Herpes Treatments
There are no cures yet for vaginal herpes. Once it infects a person, the virus remains in the body for life. Though, after a few years, some people become asymptomatic and do not suffer from outbreaks.
If a woman suffers from vaginal herpes, avoiding sex and giving up on relationships is not a solution. You should take steps to prevent the spreading of the disease. Vaginal Herpes can be prevented if the partner is wearing a condom during sex, however it is not guaranteed. If there are visible sores on the genitals of the partner, sex should be avoided. Also, oral sex shouldn’t be indulged in if the partner has a sore in his mouth. Always remember that HSV can spread even in the absence of any symptom.
Many women feel embarrassed and experience emotional distress from vaginal herpes. Nonetheless, they should seek a medical exam and appropriate treatment for the viral disease. There are some tests that should be taken to determine the disease after which the doctor will prescribe medications that will reduce the pain caused by blisters and minimize other symptoms of Herpes.
Treatments with the help of antiviral medications have shown some effectiveness as it reduces the viral shedding and thus helps to decrease the severity of the outbreaks. It also reduces the chance of passing on the infection to your partner. The most common antiviral medications prescribed by physicians are acyclovir (Zovirax), famciclovir (Famvir) and valacyclovir (Valtrex).
Acyclovir is prescribed depending on the location of the infection either through pills, injections or topical creams. Repeated doses of the pills may cause side effects like headaches, rashes, nausea and seizures. Injections may cause blood clots and increases the risk of kidney problems while topical creams are not as effective in treating the infection though they may soothe the symptoms.
Valacyclovir converts to become acyclovir when it reaches the liver and intestines. Fewer doses are required as the concentration of the drug increases. The people with a compromised immune system may develop blood clots with the use of this drug.
Famciclovir is not very effective in preventing the symptoms of HSV 2 as compared to Acyclovir. When the drug comes into contact with the enzyme produced by HSV, it turns into Penciclovir, which is an ointment used to treat the skin problems caused by Herpes. Other drugs may be prescribed if the body is unresponsive to the usual drugs.
Vaginal Herpes Natural Treatments
Apart from the medications, there are some natural ways that can cure or reduce the vaginal blisters. They are as follows:
- Immune depressant drugs should be avoided.
- Nicotine, alcohol and caffeine reduce the nutrients and the oxygen levels in the body. These should be avoided.
- Excessive exposure to the sun should be avoided. (Some anti-viral drugs cause photosensitivity)
- Warm water should be used while bathing along with herbal soaps to help reduce blisters. Bathing twice a day is advisable.
- Tea tree oil helps fight infections and speeds healing of the sores. You will want to apply 4 to 5 drops of the oil on the sores before going to bed.
- Foods rich in amino acids provide collagen to the body and make the skin healthy are recommended.
- Carrot juice helps to detoxifying the body.
- Clothing must be loose and comfortable so that the skin doesn’t sweat much. This helps the blisters dry quickly.
- Minimize or eliminate sexual activity during active phases of HSV as it will reduce your chance of passing it on to your partner.
- Always practice safe sex as your best protection against any sexually transmitted disease.
- Always maintain a healthy level of hydration by drinking ample amounts of water.
Pregnant women have extra responsibilities regarding the care and precautions which must be taken to protect their baby. Confer with your doctor for details. Never give birth vaginally during an active and initial Vaginal Herpes outbreak.