What is genital herpes?

Genital herpes (also called HSV infection) is a viral infection that may cause skin blisters and sores in the genital area. Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that is often spread by sexual contact with someone who has herpes blisters or sores present. However, many people with genital herpes infections do not have visible symptoms. The herpes simplex virus (HSV) is usually transmitted during sexual contact even though an infected person may not have symptoms.
 

What causes genital herpes?

Genital herpes can be caused by either the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) or the herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). HSV-2 is the most common cause of genital herpes infection in the United States.
 

How common is genital herpes?

Genital herpes is one of the three most prevalent sexually transmitted diseases in the United States and one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases worldwide.

  • At least 50 million people in the U.S. have genital herpes.
  • Women are affected more often than men.
  • The greatest increase in genital herpes infection in the past decade has been among white teenagers.
  • Each year, about 1,500 to 2,000 newborns contract herpes during birth. The mothers of babies who develop herpes usually are unaware that they are having a first-time (primary) outbreak and often do not have apparent blisters or sores.

 

Can you see genital herpes?

The first-time (primary) outbreak of HSV often starts with painful blisters on the penis or on the vulva. The blisters rupture and turn into shallow sores that take up to 3 weeks to heal. However, some people do not have visible symptoms.
 

How is the herpes virus spread?

HSV can be spread to or from the genitals, anus, or mouth during sexual activities (including skin to skin contact). A person becomes infected when the virus enters the body through a break in the skin or through moist areas (mucous membranes) such as the mouth, anus, and vagina. Even very small breaks in the skin allow the virus to infect the body.
 
The same virus that causes genital herpes also causes cold sores (herpes labialis). Thus, HSV can be spread from a genital sore to the lips or from a cold sore to a sex partner's genital area. The virus can be transmitted through heterosexual and homosexual contact or any direct contact with herpes sores.
 
Newborns may be infected with HSV at birth. This usually happens when a woman has become infected and has her primary outbreak close to the time of delivery and the baby is delivered through the vagina. Usually, in these cases, the woman either does not have symptoms or is unaware of symptoms. If a pregnant woman has recurrent outbreaks, the risk of passing the virus to the baby is greatly reduced (less than 1% of the time).1 HSV can affect many body systems and cause serious health problems in newborns.
 

How do I prevent herpes?

 The only sure way to prevent herpes to to avoid sex (including oral sex) before marriage and to avoid any skin to skin contact with someones genital area. Once you are married, if you and your spouse are both faithful to each other and do not enter the marriage relationship with herpes it is impossible to acquire this disease. Therefore saving sex until marriage and marrying a faithful partner who was not previously exposed to herpes is the only absolute way to avoid this STD.
 

What symptoms will I have?

A primary outbreak may include flulike symptoms, such as fever, headache, and muscle aches; painful urination; abnormal discharge; and painful, itchy blisters in the genital area that break open and become oozing sores.
 
However, most people who become infected with HSV have no symptoms, or the symptoms are so mild that they do not recognize that they have had an outbreak. Once a person is infected with HSV, it remains in the body for life, often hidden inside the nerve cells.
 
Genital herpes infections can be severe in people with impaired immune systems.
 

What increases my risk of getting genital herpes?

Risk factors for genital herpes include:

  • Having multiple sex partners.
  • Having high-risk partner(s) (partner has multiple sex partners or HSV-infected sex partners).
  • Starting sexual activity at a young age (before age 18).
  • Having an impaired immune system.
  • Being a woman. Women are more likely than men to become infected with HSV and tend to have more severe and longer-lasting symptoms. Women also are at a greater risk of having complications from genital herpes infection.

 

How is genital herpes treated?

Several antiviral medications are available to treat genital herpes. These medications can relieve symptoms, shorten the length of outbreaks, and prevent some recurrent outbreaks. They cannot cure genital herpes nor prevent all recurrent outbreaks. A vaccine to prevent herpes infection is not available at this time, but several are being studied and some may be available soon.
 
Antibiotics, which fight bacterial infections, are not effective in treating a viral infection such as genital herpes.
 

If genital herpes is treated, will I be cured?

There is no cure for genital herpes. After the primary outbreak, some people have just a few recurrent outbreaks over their lifetime, while others may have 4 to 6 outbreaks a year. Recurrent outbreaks are more likely if the cause is HSV-2 and generally are less severe and heal more quickly than the primary outbreak. Usually the number of outbreaks decreases after several years. While genital herpes is bothersome and may cause emotional distress, it usually does not cause serious health problems in healthy adults.
 
**Some of above information provided via webmd.

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