Genital herpes effects millions of Americans, but because up to 60 percent of people with the disease are asymptomatic, it can be difficult to diagnose the disease in order to prevent its further spread. Further muddying the issue are several other illnesses that can mimic the symptoms of herpes and cause infected persons to misdiagnose themselves and not seek the appropriate medical care for their illness. Health care professionals can also fail to perform the appropriate tests for herpes, and misdiagnose the disease as one of the similar illnesses.
Genital herpes is transmitted by direct skin to skin contact during sexual activity. The most common means of transmission is the skin of the uninfected person coming into contact with sores or blisters in the genital area of the infected person through oral, vaginal or anal sex. Genital herpes is caused by two variations of the herpes simplex virus, HSV-1 and HSV-2, although the vast majority of herpes cases are caused by HSV-2, whereas HSV-1 is more often associated with cold sores.Genital herpes affects nearly one-fifth of the U.S. population, while oral herpes affects up to 80 percent. The most commonly known symptom of herpes is periodic outbreaks of blisters and sores in the genital area, or the area of the anus. These outbreaks generally last 2-21 days, with the first outbreak after infection usually being the most severe.
As mentioned before, many people infected with herpes are asymptomatic, making diagnosis of the disease difficult. The more people who go undiagnosed, the more likely it is that they will spread the disease to other sexual partners unwittingly. Currently, there is no cure for genital herpes, but vaccines are under development.
Familiar symptoms, different problem
Making the diagnosis problem more difficult is the fact that some of the symptoms of herpes, particularly in mild cases of genital herpes, can easily be mistaken with other illnesses such as:
Lichen planus is an illness that causes lesions or rashes, usually in the area of the mouth, but also sometimes in the genital area. The lesions in the genital area can resemble herpes symptoms. The cause of lichen planus is unknown, but the disease is not contagious. It is treated with oral steroids, immunosuppressant drugs, aloe vera and other drugs.
Atopic dermatitis is another ailment that can resemble genital herpes. Atopic dermatitis, or eczema, causes blisters with oozing and crusting, much like herpes does. Eczema is caused by a variety of factors, including skin allergies. The number of cases of eczema have increased since the beginning of the 20th century, and now about 1 to 3 percent of adults are affected by it. There are a variety of treatments for eczema, including the frequent use of moisturizers. Corticosteroid treatment is also used in severe cases of the illness. There is no cure for atopic dermatitis, but with treatment and certain lifestyle adjustments it can be minimized to reduce impact on patients’ quality of life. Some lifestyle changes for people with eczema include wearing loose fitting clothing, avoiding stress and avoiding common food allergens such as nuts, milk, cheese and anything else your health care provider has found exacerbates your eczema.
Urethritis is a painful inflammation of the urethra. People with herpes can often have urethritis as a symptom of the disease. Urethritis can also be caused by a number of factors, however, including adenovirus, Reiter’s syndrome and Isotretinoin therapy. Urethritis can cause dysuria, painful or frequent urination, which is another symptom of herpes.
Uethritis can be diagnosed with a cotton swab test. Once diagnosed, urethritis can be treated with a variety of drugs that relieve pain and inflammation.
Because of the similarities between these ailments and herpes, it’s important to get checked by a doctor for herpes if you believe you may have the disease. Health care providers can perform a number of examinations, including blood work or a culture to determine whether you have herpes or another ailment.
Testing and identification is important to stop the spread of herpes, which can make it easier for infected persons to acquire HIV, or for persons already infected with HIV to have the virus turn into AIDS more quickly. By diagnosing herpes, steps can be taken to prevent the further spread of the disease by unprotected sex or risky sexual behaviors. Suppressive therapy using antiviral drugs can also reduce the likelihood of herpes transmission.