Summary: Herpes can affect inside and the outside vagina; symptoms include rash, itching, blisters, sores, ulcers & discharge. Treatments reduce recurrence of herpes vaginal symptoms.
In women, genital herpes affects the vagina and surrounding area. Vaginal herpes is an alternative term sometimes used to describe this condition in women.
Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) which may also be referred to as an STI (sexually transmitted infection).
There is a misconception that all STDs and STIs are transmitted solely by genital to genital contact.
Genital herpes on the vagina, which is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV), can be transmitted through a wider range of sexual interaction including kissing and oral sex.
There are two forms of the herpes HSV virus: Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 HSV usually affects the mouth, whilst Type 2 HSV virus affects the genital area: the vaginal area in women and the penis and testicular area in men.
Once infected, the herpes virus can remain dormant in the body for long periods of time; a woman carrying the herpes virus may have no obvious signs and symptoms.
However, the Type 2 genital herpes virus may become activated bringing a number of signs and symptoms in the vaginal area. This process is often referred to as an outbreak and can be triggered by specific events such as stress and a weakened immune system.
After an initial infection, there is usually an incubation period preceding an outbreak, lasting several days to a week, in which there are no signs or symptoms. After the incubation period, and up to a few weeks after the initial infection, the first symptoms of herpes on the vagina may be experienced.
These first symptoms are usually itching and a feeling of discomfort in the vaginal area which may be felt as a soreness and tingling sensation of the skin around the vagina. There may also be a rash; the skin around the vagina may redden in color.
After the first symptoms, blisters may develop around the vagina. These can be very painful and cause great discomfort. At a later stage the blisters may rupture. A blister on the vagina that has popped or burst can leak fluid around the genital area.
Ruptured vaginal blisters can lead to ulcers around the vagina. Lesions such as sores, blisters and ulcers of the vagina caused by the herpes virus usually last between one to two weeks.
Vaginal herpes can also affect the area around the genitals, including the vulva, the vaginal opening, inside the vaginal walls and the cervix.
Further signs & symptoms of herpes around the genital area include painful urination and swollen lymph nodes (found in the groin).
When the symptoms from a herpes outbreak subside, the herpes virus can remain dormant in the body.
There is no cure for the HSV 2 herpes virus; once a person is infected it remains within the body.
A person with vaginal herpes can experience a cycle of dormancy and outbreak of symptoms. Over time, each outbreak can bring fewer or milder symptoms of the vagina and the surrounding genital area.
Whilst there is no cure for vaginal herpes, there are treatments available which reduce the length and severity of associated symptoms.
In some cases, and where a quick diagnosis is made, antiviral drugs may be prescribed to reduce the pain and infection from the sores on the vagina and surrounding genital area.
Where a woman experiences frequent outbreaks of genital herpes, medication may be prescribed which reduces the recurrence of an outbreak. This is often referred to as suppressive therapy.
There are also herbal treatments which may suppress the herpes virus.