What to know about genital herpes

Genital herpes is a widespread sexually transmitted infection with the ability to cause genital sores to develop. Several may have non-symptomatic genital herpes.

This article provides an overview of genital herpes including their symptoms, causes, treatments, and complications.

What is genital herpes?

People can contract this sexually transmitted infection (STI) through vaginal, anal, and oral sex.

Two types of virus can cause genital herpes:

  • herpes simplex 1 (HSV-1), which usually causes oral herpes
  • herpes simplex 2 (HSV-2), which usually causes genital herpes

Oral herpes is causing cold sores to appear on the lips, or fever blisters. People usually get oral herpes through contact with salivaries rather than through genitals.

Though HSV-1 usually causes oral herpes, it can spread through oral sex to the genitals, especially if an individual has open cold sores.

One person may have both HSV-1 and HSV-2 simultaneously.

There is no treatment for genital herpes at this time. Transmitting to others can be easy, even if a person lacks open sores.

The use of barrier protection during sex is important to prevent the transmission of genital herpes.

How common is genital herpes?

Genital herpes is very common in the United States, affecting 11.9 per cent of people aged 14–49.

Females are more likely to have genital herpes than males, because they can quickly sever vaginal tissues, allowing the virus to enter the body. Estimates suggest that 1 in 5 females and 1 in 10 males aged 14–49 are affected by genital herpes.


Genital herpes doesn’t cause symptoms at all. A person may not know he or she has this virus until it occurs on a regular STI examination.

If genital herpes leads to symptoms, open sores on the genitals and anus are typically caused.

The sores usually develop first on the part of the body that first became exposed to the virus. In general, the lesions occur between 2 days and 3 weeks of sexual contact with a person with genital herpes.

Genital herpes is marked by small blisters that break open, leaving painful sores that can heal for 2–6 weeks. One person may mistake a mild herpes case for a few pimples or incubated hairs.

A person often first experiences tingling or scratching around his or her genitals which can last up to a day. They may also notice symptoms such as:

  • a headache
  • fever
  • tiredness or fatigue
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • muscle pain

Herpes is most infectious when a person has open genital sores, although the virus can be transmitted even when there is no sores.

A doctor will typically diagnose genital herpes by inquiring about the signs of a patient and examining any lesions present. Blood tests and skin scrapings can help diagnose the disease, although this is not usually required.

Other symptoms are male and female specific.

Symptoms of genital herpes in males

Males are more likely to get frequent genital herpes outbreaks than females. We can find blisters or sores in the penis, scrotum, or anus, or irregular penile discharge.

Symptoms of genital herpes in females

Having a menstrual period may lead to a genital herpes outbreak.

A person may also mistake the genital herpes symptoms for those of a yeast infection or bladder infection.

How is genital herpes transmitted?

Genital herpes can spread in the following ways:

  • vaginal sex, anal sex, or genital contact with someone who has the virus
  • receiving oral sex from a partner with a cold sore
  • touching a herpes sore, then touching the genitals
  • a baby can contract genital herpes during birth if the mother has the virus

People can transmit the virus sexually, even if they do not have any visible symptoms.

Contracting genital herpes from seats in the shower, bedding, swimming pools or touching other objects can not. The virus can only spread through contact between humans.

How to treat genital herpes

Genital herpes don’t get healed. This lies dormant for long periods in the body, then reappears as sores outbreak.

Doctors can, however, prescribe medications that reduce the likelihood of repeated outbreaks. Such medicinal products may also reduce the risk of virus transmission.

When a person has an outbreak of genital herpes, healing may be encouraged and the risk of transmitting the virus decreased by:

  • avoiding sexual contact with another person until the sores have healed
  • keeping the sores clean and dry
  • refraining from touching the sores whenever possible
  • washing the hands immediately after touching the sores
  • using barrier protection during sexual contact until told otherwise by a doctor

The first outbreak of herpes is typically the worst-subsequent infections appear to become less embarrassing.


Generally, genital herpes doesn’t cause serious problems to the body. It can also make a person more vulnerable to HIV infection.

If a person has genital herpes sores, there’s more opportunity for viruses and bacteria, including HIV, to enter the body. Do not itch the sores because this can lead to bacterial infection.

Having HIV also can make outbreaks of genital herpes more serious.


The only sure way to prevent the spread of genital herpes is by avoiding sexual contact, particularly when sores are present.

The use of condoms reduces the risk of the infection spreading. People can contract herpes from the skin around the genitals, however, so it’s not guaranteed that this will work.

By understanding it many people have STIs. Doctors recommend regular checks, particularly after a person has been having sex with a new partner.


Genital herpes is an STI which can be transmitted by a person through vaginal, anal or oral sex. It is usually caused by the HSV-2 virus but HSV-1 can also cause this.

There is no cure for genital herpes but a person can reduce the likelihood of outbreaks and the risk of transmitting the virus by taking antiviral medication.

A doctor can assist with the diagnosis of genital herpes and prescribe treatment options.

People can help avoid genital herpes transmission through the use of barrier protection during sex and by taking antiretroviral medication.


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