Symptoms of genital herpes range from asymptomatic to tingling and burning without lesions, to recurrent genital ulcerations.
Symptoms of herpes labialis include tingling and burning followed by development of vesicular then ulcerative lesions involving the oropharynx and perioral mucosa.
Aciclovir, famciclovir, and valaciclovir are effective at shortening the duration and severity of an outbreak.
Daily suppressive therapy reduces recurrences by 80% and reduces transmission risk by approximately 50%.
HSV type-specific antibody tests are used to diagnose infection with or without lesions and distinguish between type 1 and 2.
Infection with HSV-1 or HSV-2 can cause oral, genital, and ocular ulcers. The primary episode occurs during initial infection with HSV, in which the host lacks an antibody response.
Herpes labialis (oral herpes) is infection of the mouth area and lips with HSV-1. If symptomatic, high fever, sore throat, and pharyngeal oedema may occur. Painful ulcers can appear a few days later on the pharyngeal and oral mucosa, and high fever and mouth pain last for several days. Generalised muscle pains and often rigors occur, with cervical lymphadenopathy and sometimes splenomegaly. Recurrent infections can occur and typically recurrences are in the same site. Recurrences last from 6 to 48 hours; pain, burning, or tingling starts, and then vesicles form. Systemic manifestations do not typically occur and the lesions will crust and heal in about 10 days.
Genital herpes is caused by infection with either HSV-1 or HSV-2. The first clinical episode of genital ulceration may represent either new acquisition of the virus or newly recognised disease with remote acquisition of the virus. Sexual contact passes infection to the patient. Women may have genital pain, discharge, and dysuria with ulcerative lesions on the vulva, perineum, buttocks, cervix, and vagina. During primary infection, women tend to have systemic symptoms including fever, neuralgia, and constipation, whereas men have a milder primary course. Men may have vesicles on the penis shaft or glans with urethritis. Proctitis may occur with discharge, rectal pain, tenesmus, constipation, impotence, and urinary retention after anorectal intercourse. About 70% have recurrent episodes within the first year, with attacks decreasing over time.
For both HSV-1 and HSV-2, asymptomatic shedding may occur in the absence of lesions; transmission of the virus may occur during asymptomatic shedding. HSV establishes latency in neuronal ganglia and periodically reactivates. Most reactivations are asymptomatic but can result in transmission of the virus. The classic clinical presentation of vesicles progressing to painful ulcers is unusual; atypical and mild symptoms are common, and most people have unrecognised disease.
Division of Hospital Medicine
MedStar Georgetown University Hospital
BDL declares that he has no competing interests.
Dr Benjamin D. Lorenz would like to gratefully acknowledge Dr Christine Johnson and Dr Anna Wald, previous contributors to this topic. CJ reports funding from AiCuris; grants from Agenus, Gilead, Genocea, Sanofi, and Vical to conduct clinical research studies; and royalties from Up To Date. AW reports grants from Agenus, Gilead, Genocea, Sanofi, and Vical to conduct clinical research studies. AW receives royalties from Up To Date. AW is an NIH grant recipient (NIH AI30731 and AI071113) and a consultant for Aicuris, Eisai, and Amgen.
Department of Surgical, Oncological and Oral Sciences
School of Dentistry
University of Palermo
GP declares that he has no competing interests.
Professor of Medicine
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
PL declares that he has no competing interests.
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