- Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease or sexually transmitted infection (STD or STI) caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV).
- Herpes simplex virus causes genital herpes by entering the skin or mucous membranes through microscopic breaks in the skin and mucous membranes.
- There are 2 types of HSV:
- Herpes simplex virus-1, that typically causes cold sores, and
- Herpes simplex virus-2, that typically causes genital herpes.
- Either herpes simplex virus type can cause sores on the genital areas.
- Genital herpes is transmitted by any type of sexual contact with the genital area.
- With the initial (first episode) genital herpes infection, some individuals may develop symptoms that seem flu-like and include
- When symptoms and signs do appear, they may include painful blisters and/or ulcers in the genital area, itching, and burning or tingling sensations in the skin.
- Genital herpes symptoms come and go over the person’s lifetime due to reactivations of the virus.
- Diagnosis is usually done by recognizing the skin changes in the genital area but viral cultures, genetic amplification of herpes simplex virus genome material, and other tests may be done.
- There is no cure for genital herpes, but there are medications to make living with genital herpes more manageable.
- Antiviral medications are used to reduce the severity and frequency of genital herpes.
- Genital herpes symptoms and signs in women usually develop near the vagina, buttocks, and/or anus a few days after exposure to an infected person.
- Some natural and home remedies may help relieve and soothe symptoms severity, but provide no cure.
- Oral antiviral medications may be used in pregnancy. Check with your OB/GYN before taking any medications if you are pregnant.
- The prognosis of genital herpes is variable: there is no cure, and the recurrent outbreaks may vary in frequency and severity.
- Genital herpes prevention is difficult. Condoms may prevent the disease spread during sex, but not in areas of skin not covered by a condom or during oral to genital contact.
What is genital herpes?
Genital herpes is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by an infection with the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types of herpes.
- HSV-1 is most commonly associated with blisters and ulcers around the mouth known as cold sores (oral herpes).
- HSV-2 is associated with blistering lesions in genital areas that are exposed during sexual contact.
However, both types of herpes simplex virus can infect the mouth or the genital areas, meaning that genital contact (oral sex) with a cold sore on the mouth can lead to genital herpes. Likewise, kissing someone with a cold sore can spread the herpes simplex virus infection.
After the first outbreak of herpes, the virus travels through the nerves and resides in nerve tissue within the body. Reactivations, or repeat occurrences of the blisters, can occur throughout an individual’s lifetime. Among people aged 14 to 49, an estimated one out of every six people have the infection.
Genital herpes is not the same thing as genital warts. Genital warts are flesh-colored growths that appear on the sexually exposed areas due to infection with certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV).
How common is genital herpes?
- Herpes is very common.
- Among people aged 14 to 49, an estimated one out of every six people (15.5% of the population) have been infected with HSV-2, the virus that is predominantly responsible for genital herpes.
- Estimates suggest that in the U.S., 776,000 people become infected every year.
- The viral infection is more common in women than in men.
- Spread from men to women is known to occur more readily than from women to men.
- According to WHO estimates, HSV-1 infects 67% of all humans under the age of 50. The majority of infected people are not aware they are infected.