Key Points about Genital Herpes

  • Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection caused by one of the herpes simplex viruses, either HSV-1 or HSV-2.
  • HSV-2 is the strain usually responsible for genital herpes.
  • Symptoms of genital herpes include ­­­­­­pain or itching in the affected area, and small red or white blisters or bumps— although most infected people do not notice any symptoms.
  • Genital herpes cannot be cured, but outbreaks can be treated and managed with antiviral medications.
Common related conditions
Cold Sores

Overview

Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection caused by one of the herpes simplex viruses, either HSV-1 or HSV-2. Most cases of genital herpes are caused by HSV-2.

While most people do not notice any symptoms, infected people may experience small red or white bumps or blisters, that may be painful or itchy.

Genital herpes cannot be cured, as the virus lays dormant in the body forever, in between active outbreaks. Outbreaks can me managed, however, with antiviral medications. See your doctor if you think you may have symptoms of a genital herpes infection or outbreak.

Genital herpes causes

Genital herpes is caused by infection with one of the herpes simplex viruses, either HSV-1 or HSV-2.

HSV-2 is the strain usually responsible for genital herpes. It is very contagious, and spreads through direct sexual or skin contact with an infected person. HSV-2 can be transmitted even if the infected person is not having a current or visible outbreak.

HSV-1 is the strain usually responsible for cold sores, although it can also spread from an infected person to a partner’s genital area through oral sex.

Genital herpes risk factors

Anyone who has had sexual contact with an infected person is at risk of developing genital herpes.

Genital herpes symptoms

Most cases of genital herpes do not cause any noticeable symptoms. If you do experience symptoms, they will likely develop several days after you were initially exposed to the virus. These symptoms may include:

  • Small, red or white blisters or sores in the affected area, which take about a week to heal after they pop
  • A growth that resembles a pimple or ingrown hair
  • An itching or tingling sensation around your genital area
  • Flu-like symptoms at the time of the first infection
  • Ulcers or scabs

Herpes can affect the:

  • Mouth
  • Buttocks
  • Thighs
  • Anus
  • External and internal genitals, in both men and women
  • Urethra

Genital herpes complications

Genital herpes can increase you risk of developing:

  • Additional sexually transmitted infections, such as HIV
  • Bladder issues, from inflammation caused by HSV-2
  • Meningitis
  • Proctitis, or inflammation of the rectum

If you are pregnant and are experiencing an outbreak during delivery, your baby can experience brain damage and other complications after being exposed to the virus.

Genital herpes prevention

Genital herpes can only be prevented by avoiding anal, vaginal, and oral sex.

People who are sexually active can lower their risk of acquiring genital herpes by:

  • Being in a monogamous, long-term relationship with a non-infected person
  • Using condoms during sex—although condoms do not protect surrounding areas from becoming infected

Genital herpes diagnosis

Genital herpes can often be diagnosed through a visual assessment of the affected area. Your doctor may also perform:

  • A viral culture of the affected tissue
  • A polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test
  • A blood-test

Genital herpes treatment

Genital herpes cannot be cured, but prescription antiviral medications can alleviate symptoms and end an outbreak more quickly. Avoid kissing or having sex during an outbreak.

When to seek care

Call your doctor if you think you have symptoms of genital herpes.

Next Steps

Your doctor may prescribe a medication to take during any future outbreaks.