Genital Herpes Vs. Yeast Infection: Know The Difference

genital herpes vs. yeast infection

genital herpes vs. yeast infection

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Difference Between Genital Herpes And Yeast Infections

An excruciatingly painful condition, vaginal herpes spreads through sexual contact and manifests in the form of blisters around the genital area. Yeast infection, on the other hand, is caused by a yeast-like fungus called candida and not by sexual contact. Though they are completely distinct infections, either of these can make you prone to the other.

Can herpes be mistaken for yeast infection? It is not uncommon for people to confuse vaginal or genital herpes with a yeast infection or vice versa. The two are actually very different in every way, except for a couple of common symptoms like redness and itchiness down there.

According to the World Health Organization, 536 million people between the ages of 15 and 49 were estimated to be suffering from genital herpes in 2015. They were infected by the virus known as herpes simplex virus 2 or HSV2.1

Herpes simplex virus 1 or HSV1 is associated with non-genital herpes.2 Though it is transmitted through oral contact, it has the potential to cause genital herpes as well.3 As of 2017, that number is fortunately down to 500 million people.4

Genital Herpes Vs. Yeast Infection

If you notice some irritation, itching, and redness down there, you better hope it’s a yeast infection rather than a case of genital herpes. Why? Because the herpes virus lives on forever and even when it is cured, will lie dormant and crop up again after a while. When one of the HSV2’s two strains enters the body through genital tissue, it travels to neurons near the spine. Unfortunately, the body is programmed not to kill these infected neurons as they don’t regenerate easily. The virus hides here, reactivating itself time and again to cause more blisters and sores characteristic of genital herpes.

Not to mention that genital herpes is excruciatingly painful. The disease spreads through sexual contact (unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex) and makes your life very uncomfortable. Contact with the fluids found in herpes sores carry the virus and spread genital herpes. Women are more vulnerable to the disease than men.5

Worse still, they can transfer the disease to their newborn (neonatal herpes), which can often be fatal and also amplifies the risk of infection by HIV.6

The only way to safeguard against genital herpes is to abstain from unprotected sex and be in a monogamous sexual relationship with someone who does not have any history of a sexually-transmitted disease.7

A genital yeast infection, on the other hand, is caused by a yeast-like fungus called Candida albicans or just candida. It is not a sexually-transmitted disease, unlike genital herpes. The University of Maryland Medical Center estimates that about 75 percent of women will get a vaginal yeast infection once during their lifetime. Also known as candidiasis, it affects both men and women and occurs when there is an overgrowth of the candida fungus. It can lead to vaginal irritation, itching, and thick white discharge (somewhat like cottage cheese). The causes of yeast infection usually include reaction to certain medications like antibiotics and contraceptives or conditions such as diabetes, pregnancy, impaired immunity, and being overweight. Hot and humid conditions may also contribute to the occurrence of yeast infections.8

Herpes Or Infection: Ways To Know Through Symptoms

Genital Herpes

  • The similar symptoms of both these conditions such as pain, itching and burning sensation often end up confusing the patient in the process of diagnosis. Apart from the fact that genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease while yeast infection is not, another distinguishing factor is the presence of sores and blisters.
  • Those suffering from genital herpes often have to face blisters that mostly appear on or around the genital area and sometimes the rectum and mouth. They eventually break and lead to painful sores. This is sometimes called “having an outbreak” and may be accompanied by flu-like symptoms like fever, body aches, and swollen glands.
  • A smelly discharge and burning sensation while peeing are some other signs of genital herpes in males and females.
  • Women may notice bleeding between periods in addition. These outbreaks may occur in loops, especially during the first year after infection. The first one is the most dreadful and may be the longest. Though the infection can affect you for life, the good news is that the frequency of these outbreaks will reduce after a couple of years.9

Yeast Infections

As far as yeast infections are concerned, genital itching, burning sensation, and a thick cottage cheese-like vaginal discharge are the common symptoms for women. Yeast infection in males will usually manifest itself as an itchy rash on the penis. The symptoms of yeast infection in females can often be confusing as they are similar to those of many other genital infections. It is wise to consult your doctor before self-medicating.10

According to a study, only 33.7 percent of women who presumed they had a yeast infection actually had it. Scores of women end up self-diagnosing and begin using an over-the-counter product for treatment without having the disease. Bacterial vaginosis, mixed vaginitis, and trichomonas vaginitis were some of the other conditions confused with a yeast infection in females. The percentage of women whose results turned out absolutely normal with no infection whatsoever was 13.7 percent.11

Yeast infections are usually diagnosed by taking a sample of the vaginal secretions to check for an abnormal number of candida organisms. A fungal culture may not always be useful because these organisms are normally found in many areas of the body.12

Does Herpes Cause Yeast Infections?

Though they are completely distinct infections, either of these can make you prone to the other. According to a study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, the neuroendocrine and immune systems play major roles in the adaptation and, hence, survival of organisms likes candida in our body. An overgrowth of candida, which leads to yeast infection, signifies the failure of our immune system to keep the number of these organisms in check.13

Basically, if you have a yeast infection, your immune system is already compromised. And when that happens, it makes you vulnerable to other infections like oral or genital herpes. According to a study, those infected with the Herpes Simplex Virus 1 that causes oral and genital herpes leads to a significant dysfunction of the body’s anti-candida response. The HSV1 deregulates our antifungal defenses. So contracting oral or genital herpes also raises your risk of yeast infection.14

Vaginal herpes and yeast infection are two different health conditions. They are not, however, mutually exclusive in that one can lead to the other.

References   [ + ]

1, 5, 7.Common Questions About Herpes. Yale School of Medicine.
2.Whitley, Richard J., David W. Kimberlin, and Bernard Roizman. “Herpes simplex viruses.” Clinical Infectious Diseases (1998): 541-553.
3.Herpes Simplex Virus. WHO.
4, 6.Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “New genital herpes vaccine candidate provides powerful protection in preclinical tests.” ScienceDaily.
8.Candidiasis. University of Maryland Medical Center.
9.Genital Herpes. CDC.
10.Genital/Vulvovaginal Candidiasis. CDC.
11.Ferris, Daron G., Paul Nyirjesy, Jack D. Sobel, David Soper, Adriana Pavletic, and Mark S. Litaker. “Over-the-counter antifungal drug misuse associated with patient-diagnosed vulvovaginal candidiasis.” Obstetrics & Gynecology 99, no. 3 (2002): 419-425.
12.Genital/vulvovaginal candidiasis (VVC). CDC.
13.Chrousos, George P. “Stress, chronic inflammation, and emotional and physical well-being: concurrent effects and chronic sequelae.” Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 106, no. 5 (2000): S275-S291.
14.Cermelli, Claudio, Carlotta Francesca Orsi, Andrea Ardizzoni, Enrico Lugli, Valeria Cenacchi, Andrea Cossarizza, and Elisabetta Blasi. “Herpes simplex virus type 1 dysregulates anti‐fungal defenses preventing monocyte activation and downregulating toll‐like receptor‐2.” Microbiology and immunology 52, no. 12 (2008): 575-584.

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.

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