This brief guide seeks to identify the common female symptoms of herpes.
Genital herpes is a common sexually transmitted disease in the United States, affecting as many as 45 million people, according to the Centers for Disease Control. It can be caused by two viruses: herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1), the virus that commonly causes fever blisters or cold sores on the mouth, or herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2), which occurs more frequently in women. This may be because a woman's genital area is larger than a man's, and a woman's fluctuating hormone levels affect immune response to the infection. Both viruses are spread through oral or sexual contact with someone who has a herpes infection.
Sexually active women concerned about their health should have a basic understanding of the female symptoms of herpes for several reasons. First, women are more likely than men to get genital herpes caused by herpes simplex virus 2. Second, symptoms of herpes in women tend to be more severe than those in men. Third, while rare, it is possible for a pregnant woman to pass a herpes infection to her baby.
In some cases, a woman can have a herpes infection but no symptoms, meaning she might unknowingly pass on the disease to a sexual partner. However, many women with the infection do develop symptoms.
Typical herpes symptoms are blisters or pimples in the genital area. They can appear in the vagina or cervix and on the vulva, thighs, buttocks or rectum. After the blisters rupture, painful sores, or lesions, are left behind.
During the first outbreak of genital herpes, symptoms generally are the most severe, growing milder with each subsequent outbreak. Symptoms of herpes during the first outbreak can include those mentioned above, plus a fever, swollen glands, headache and pain during urination.
Keep in mind, however, that the severity of the female symptoms of herpes varies from woman to woman. Some women's symptoms are so mild that they're ignored or mistaken for other conditions, like a yeast infection, rash or urinary tract infection. Women with mild herpes symptoms might even dismiss the blisters as insect bites, ingrown hairs or razor burn. And if a woman's herpes sores are inside the vagina or on the cervix, she might not notice them at all.
The sores from an initial herpes outbreak take about two to four week to heal, and herpes sufferers usually endure several outbreaks per year. While symptoms can be treated, the virus remains in the body and can't be "cured."
Pregnancy is another concern for females with symptoms of herpes. If a pregnant woman gets herpes for the first time late in her pregnancy, she can potentially transfer the virus to the baby. Herpes infection in babies can be fatal. The good news, however, is that women who had their first herpes episode before they got pregnant usually have normal pregnancies and rarely pass on the infection.
Anyone with suspicious lesions in the genital area should have them checked by a doctor as soon as possible. Physicians can prescribe antiviral medications to help sores heal faster and lower the incidence of future herpes outbreaks.