Summary: Common symptoms of herpes in women can include itching, redness, blisters, and ulcers of the genital area.
There are two forms of the herpes virus. HSV-1 and HSV-2. HSV-2 is the virus associated with genital herpes. This page focuses on HSV-2 genital herpes and how it affects women.
Females in the US have a herpes infection rate slightly lower than males - approximately 1 in 4 females compared to 1 in 5 males. Male and female symptoms of herpes are in the most part similar.
Despite similar symptoms across the sexes, there are several differences between males and females.
For example, females with genital herpes may also experience vaginal discharge. Vaginal discharge is a clear, white or off white (pale yellow) fluid secreted from the vagina or cervix. This fluid helps clear the vagina and often indicates that there is an infection present within the vagina or cervix.
However, vaginal discharge is a symptom of other conditions including bacterial vaginosis, candidiasis and trichomoniasis. Vaginal discharge is also a symptom of other sexually transmitted diseases (STD's) including chlamydia and gonorrhea, conditions which could potentially be mistaken for herpes and vice versa if thorough techniques for diagnosis are not used.
Females with herpes may also develop blisters and ulcers within the walls of the vagina and around the cervix. As a high percentage of people with the HSV-2 virus do not develop any noticeable symptoms, the likelihood of the virus remaining undetected if the blisters and ulcers are confined to within the vagina increase.
Cervicitis (inflammation of the lower cervix) brought on by Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the bacteria responsible for the sexually transmitted disease gonorrhea, can give rise to symptoms of pus, inflammation, redness and swelling. These similar symptoms to herpes could cause a physician to overlook any blisters and ulcers (symptoms of herpes), which would lead to a mis diagnosis in females with genital herpes. This is what initially happened when a physician was presented with the female symptoms shown in this photo of female herpes symptom.
Thus, it is important that a thorough diagnosis is sought from a GUM (genito-urinary medicine)clinician. Genital herpes can be diagnosed through viral isolation and typing using PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) and/or viral swabbing and viral culture.
Yes. Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease. Transmission of herpes can arise when bodily fluids from the genital area come into contact with bodily fluid of the sexual partner.
The herpes virus can be transmitted through both oral and penetrative sex (vaginal and anal).
The virus can be also be transmitted through skin contact of the infected area through a process known as viral shedding. A condom will help prevent herpes transmission.
However a condom is not 100% effective at preventing genital herpes transmission due to viral shedding.
Viral shedding occurs infrequently (a few days a year) when the virus travels up through the nerves of the skin.
However symptoms may not be visible during viral shedding so it is not possible to reliably time when you should abstain from sex. Genital herpes treatments can be used to suppress the virus and reduce the risk of transmission.
Although symptoms vary between individuals, in females, symptoms of herpes include blisters and sores around and inside the vagina.
Visit our genital herpes gallery for images of vaginal herpes.