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Genital Herpes In Children: Symptoms, Causes, And Treatment

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Genital herpes is a viral infection caused by the herpes simplex virus. Although it is common among adults, it can also occur in children. The infection can cause itchy and painful sores in the genital area during an outbreak.

The herpes virus stays inactive in the nerve cells and reactivates in favorable conditions after the initial infection. There is no complete cure for genital herpes. However, medications could help control the severity of the infection.

Read this post to know more about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of genital herpes in children.

Symptoms Of Genital Herpes

Flu-like symptoms are common during a herpes outbreak. You may seek medical care in the initial days since antivirals may reduce the severity of the infection. The following symptoms and signs are usually seen (1).

  • Pain and itching in the genital area
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Bumps or blisters in the genital area
  • Muscle aches
  • Swelling and tenderness of the glands in the groin
  • Burning or painful sensation during urination
  • Abnormal discharge from the penis or vagina

The first infection may occur two to fourteen days after contracting the herpes virus. Herpes bumps or blisters in the genital area may break and form sores that may last about three weeks.

After the initial infection, the herpes virus may stay dormant and reactivate later. The second infection may cause sores that do not last very long. The following factors may cause the second outbreak of sores in the genital and anal area in many children (2).

  • Stress
  • Illnesses
  • Sun exposure
  • Fatigue
  • Girls may have outbreaks during periods (menstruation)

Initial outbreak can be severe with more number of sores. However, subsequent outbreaks tend to become less severe over time.

Causes Of Genital Herpes In Children

The following viruses are responsible for genital herpes in children (3).

  • HSV-1 (herpes simplex virus type 1)
  • HSV-2 (herpes simplex virus type 2)

HSV-2 is the most common cause of genital herpes, whereas HSV-1 commonly causes cold sores around the mouth.

The Spread Of Genital Herpes

Children and adolescents may develop genital herpes if they touch cold sores on the mouth and touch their genitals without washing hands. Teens are more likely to develop genital herpes from intimate relationships.

Herpes usually spreads in the following ways.

  • Touching the genitals with unwashed hands after touching a herpes sore
  • Having any form of unprotected sex with an infected person with or without genital or oral herpes sores can result in HSV-2 infection

Genital herpes can spread even if the infected person has not yet developed the herpes sores. The presence of infection in young children without any known history of contact with cold sores might be a sign of sexual abuse. A pediatrician or a pediatric psychologist may ask questions to identify any cases of sexual abuse.

Diagnosis Of Genital Herpes In Children

The following tests could help diagnose genital herpes in children (4).

  • Analysis of fluid from the sores during an outbreak
  • Blood tests if no sores are present

Doctors may ask a child if they have been in contact with an infected child or adult. However, in many cases, the source of infection may not be identifiable since the sores may appear months or years after contracting the virus (5).

Treatment Of Genital Herpes In Children

There is no specific cure for genital herpes. Doctors may prescribe medications to reduce the frequency and severity of outbreaks. Medications may also reduce the risk of spreading herpes to others.

Antiviral pills or ointments are usually prescribed during an outbreak of sores. Daily suppressive therapy with medications is given to prevent an outbreak. Children with repeated or severe outbreaks may be tested for immunodeficiency diseases, such as HIV infection. Antivirals are prescribed based on the test results.

Prevention Of Genital Herpes In Children

Teaching proper hand hygiene measures to children could reduce the risk of spreading the herpes virus. You may ask your child not to touch the genital area with unwashed hands after touching cold sores. Children should also be encouraged to have healthy personal hygiene habits.

It is ideal that teens and older children undergo sex education and learn more about sexual wellness to reduce the risk of genital herpes and other STDs. Antiviral medications may reduce the severity of the outbreak and spread of genital herpes in cases where the child develops sores.

Genital herpes in a young child may raise the suspicion of sexual abuse. However, sexual transmission in children over five years of age is usually reported when they only present with genital lesions and only have the herpes simplex virus type 2 (6). Nevertheless, doctors may include a multidisciplinary team to exclude the possibility of sexual abuse in some cases.

Genital herpes is often associated with adults but may also occur in children and teens. Adequate personal hygiene could minimize the spread of infection from other body sores to the genitals. Teens should be educated about sexually transmitted diseases. If your child presents with sores in the genital area even without other symptoms, do not hesitate to consult a pediatrician.

References:

MomJunction's health articles are written after analyzing various scientific reports and assertions from expert authors and institutions. Our references (citations) consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Genital Herpes; Children’s Hospital Of Philadelphia
2. Genital Herpes; Johns Hopkins Medicine
3. Genital Herpes; C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital; Michigan Medicine
4. Genital Herpes; The American Academy Of Family Physicians
5. Genital herpes: Overview: Overview; InformedHealth; US National Library Of Medicine
6. Evidence for sexual transmission of genital herpes in children; US National Library Of Medicine

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