Genital herpes in women refers to infections of herpes simplex virus I or II that appear on, in, or around the genitals. When herpes is first contracted, it usually has a first or primary infection that is more severe than subsequent infections. Though primary infections tend to have more symptoms, they may still be missed. It’s not uncommon for women to mistake herpes for other disorders or to not be able to see its characteristic lesions because they may be located on areas like the cervix, where they’re difficult to visualize. Additionally, women may misdiagnose evident lesions as other conditions.
In primary genital herpes in women, the traditional symptoms are a cluster of fluid filled blisters present somewhere on or in the vagina, or near the anus. These may itch or feel sore. Accompanying this can be swollen glands, sore legs, a sore stomach, and sometimes mild fever. Women may especially note some discomfort or burning when they urinate, and they sometimes dismiss all symptoms together as a bladder infection or as infected pimples. A percentage of women may get sicker with a primary herpes infection and could develop meningitis from the condition.
Even with the greater severity of primary genital herpes in women, some women do ignore the symptoms. Whether noticed or ignored, this condition recurs, though rate of recurrence is variable. In the first few years, the lesions may come back every month or two. Once women are aware they have this illness, they may notice a set of symptoms that occur before lesions develop. These prodromal symptoms include a sense of tingling or pins and needles where the fluid-filled blisters will appear, and they herald an oncoming attack.
Recurrence of the virus, which is not curable, isn’t generally associated with the same primary symptoms of genital herpes in women. Usually fever and swollen glands aren’t evident. Burning during urination or difficulty urinating may still be present. Though blisters that turn to sores still occur in the genital region, they don’t necessarily recur in the same place each time, so it’s still possible to miss evidence of a present infection, especially if sores develop inside the vagina.
There are particular risks associated with genital herpes in women. Active infection or first infection during labor and delivery poses a serious threat to the newborn. Women also appear more likely to get this sexually transmitted disease than are men.
It’s estimated that about 25% of American women now carry this illness, and the population of those infected with the condition is even higher in certain minority groups. While the disease can be managed, it is minimally uncomfortable, is not curable, is contagious, and, in special circumstances, poses high risks. It makes sense to try to avoid this illness when possible with safer sex practices or abstinence.