This sexually transmitted infection can't be cured. Learn how it can be managed and how to prevent the spread of infection.
Genital herpes is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI). The herpes simplex virus (HSV) causes genital herpes. Genital herpes can often be spread by skin-to-skin contact during sexual activity.
Some people infected with the virus may have very mild symptoms or no symptoms. They can still able to spread the virus. Other people have pain, itching and sores around the genitals, anus or mouth.
There is no cure for genital herpes. Symptoms often show up again after the first outbreak. Medicine can ease symptoms. It also lowers the risk of infecting others. Condoms can help prevent the spread of a genital herpes infection.
Most people infected with HSV don't know they have it. They may have no symptoms or have very mild symptoms.
Symptoms start about 2 to 12 days after exposure to the virus. They may include:
During the first outbreak, you may commonly have flu-like symptoms such as:
Sores appear where the infection enters the body. You can spread the infection by touching a sore and then rubbing or scratching another area of your body. That includes your fingers or eyes.
Sore can develop on or in the:
After the first outbreak of genital herpes, symptoms often appear again. These are called recurrent outbreaks or recurrent episodes.
How often recurrent outbreaks happen varies widely. You'll usually have the most outbreaks the first year after infection. They may appear less often over time. Your symptoms during recurrent outbreaks usually don't last as long and aren't as severe as the first.
You may have warning signs a few hours or days before a new outbreak starts. These are called prodromal symptoms. They include:
If you suspect you have genital herpes, or any other STI, see your health care provider.
Sores associated with genital herpes can be small bumps, blisters or open sores. Scabs eventually form and the sores heal, but they tend to recur.
Genital herpes is caused by two types of herpes simplex virus. These types include herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) and herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). People with HSV infections can pass along the virus even when they have no visible symptoms.
HSV-2 is the most common cause of genital herpes. The virus can be present:
The virus moves from one person to another during sexual activity.
HSV-1 is a version of the virus that causes cold sores or fever blisters. People may be exposed to HSV-1 as children due to close skin-to-skin contact with someone infected.
A person with HSV-1 in tissues of the mouth can pass the virus to the genitals of a sexual partner during oral sex. The newly caught infection is a genital herpes infection.
Recurrent outbreaks of genital herpes caused by HSV-1 are often less frequent than outbreaks caused by HSV-2.
Neither HSV-1 nor HSV-2 survives well at room temperature. So the virus is not likely to spread through surfaces, such as a faucet handle or a towel. But kissing or sharing a drinking glass or silverware might spread the virus.
A higher risk of getting genital herpes is linked to:
Complications associated with genital herpes may include:
Prevention of genital herpes is the same as preventing other sexually transmitted infections.
If you are pregnant and know you have genital herpes, tell your health care provider. If you think you might have genital herpes, ask your provider if you can be tested for it.
Your provider may recommend that you take herpes antiviral medicines late in pregnancy. This is to try to prevent an outbreak around the time of delivery. If you have an outbreak when you go into labor, your provider may suggest a cesarean section. That is a surgery to remove the baby from your uterus. It lowers the risk of passing the virus to your baby.
Your health care provider can usually make a diagnosis of genital herpes based on a physical exam and a history of your sexual activity.
To confirm a diagnosis, your provider will likely take a sample from an active sore. One or more tests of these samples are used to see if you have herpes simplex virus (HSV), infection and show whether the infection is HSV-1 or HSV-2.
Less often, a lab test of your blood may be used for confirming a diagnosis or ruling out other infections.
Your care provider will likely recommend that you get tested for other STIs. Your partner should also be tested for genital herpes and other STIs.
There's no cure for genital herpes. Treatment with prescription antiviral pills may be used for the following:
Commonly prescribed medicines used for genital herpes include:
Your health care provider will talk to you about the right treatment for you. Treatment depends on the severity of disease, the type of HSV, your sexual activity and other medical factors. The dose will vary depending on whether you currently have symptoms. Long-term use of the antiviral drugs is considered safe.
A diagnosis of genital herpes may cause embarrassment, shame, anger or other strong emotions. You may be suspicious or resentful of your partner. Or you might be worried about rejection by your current partner or future partners.
Healthy ways to cope with having genital herpes include the following:
If you think you have genital herpes or another STI, make an appointment to see your health care provider.
Be prepared to answer the following questions: