Health Questions and Answers

Question: How does genital herpes present?


Herpes typically causes small vesicles that rapidly progress to characteristic shallow, painful ulcers on the labia, vaginal mucosa, cervix, and/or perineum. There may be clusters of ulcers. Inguinal adenopathy frequently is present, as well as vaginal discharge. The most common complaint is pain. The pain of an initial herpes outbreak can be so severe that narcotics, topical anesthetics, and even hospitalization may be necessary. Women can also experience urinary retention requiring bladder catheterization, as urine is extremely irritating to the ulcers. Systemic symptoms, such as fever and malaise, may also be present. Herpes antibodies can be isolated from women with no history of herpes infection, indicating the frequent occurrence of asymptomatic infection.


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  2. Stenchever MA, Droegemueller W, Herbst AL, Mishell DR (eds): Comprehensive Gynecology, 4th ed. St. Louis, Mosby, 2001

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