Genital Herpes

Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection. It causes small, painful, fluid-filled blisters. These blisters break open and leave an indented sore or ulcer. The blisters can be found on the genitals, buttocks, or thighs. However, they can also spread to other parts of the body (such as, the mouth, face, or eyes). About 16% of people aged 14-49 years have herpes simplex type 2 genital infection.

  • Causes


    Genital herpes is usually caused by the herpes simplex 2 virus. The herpes simplex 1 virus causes
    cold sores
    most often, but it can also cause genital herpes.

    The virus enters the body through genital areas, the mouth, or a break in the skin. After the first outbreak, the virus moves to nerve endings at the base of the spine. It will remain there until the next outbreak.

    The virus can be spread with:

    • Direct contact with an infected person—such as having contact with the vagina, penis, anus, or mouth (can include sexual or non-sexual contact)
    • Fluid from herpes blisters that gets on other parts of the body
    • Pregnancy or childbirth—an infection can pass from mother to her child

    The virus is most easily spread when there are blisters. However, the virus may still spread to others when there are no visible skin sores.

  • Definition

    Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection. It causes small, painful, fluid-filled blisters. These blisters break open and leave an indented sore or ulcer. The blisters can be found on the genitals, buttocks, or thighs. However, they can also spread to other parts of the body (such as, the mouth, face, or eyes).

    Genital Herpes
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    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

    About 16% of people aged 14-49 years have herpes simplex type 2 genital infection.

  • Diagnosis

    The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history and perform a physical exam. If you have visible blisters and ulcers, the doctor will examine these. To help with the diagnosis, your doctor may:

    • Open a blister to take a
      sample
      of it
    • Have blood tests done—Your doctor will do tests to find out if you have herpes simplex type 1 virus or herpes simplex type 2 virus.

    Lesions inside the urinary tract, vagina, or cervix may not be easily seen. Your doctor may do additional tests to examine these areas.


    If you are diagnosed with genital herpes, you may be tested for other
    sexually transmitted infections
    , including
    HIV
    .

  • Prevention

    Prevention strategies include:


    • Use latex
      condoms
    • Avoid oral, anal, or genital sex if your partner has herpes blisters
    • Avoid touching blisters to prevent spreading to other parts of the body

    If you are pregnant and have herpes, tell your doctor. Steps can be taken to help prevent your newborn from getting the infection.

  • Risk Factors

    The strongest risk factor for genital herpes is having unprotected sex with an infected partner. Other risk factors include:

    • High number of sexual partners
    • History of sexually transmitted infections
    • Starting to have sex at an early age

    Certain factors can trigger an outbreak of blisters. These factors include:

    • Stress
    • Fever
    • Illness or infection
    • Menstruation

    The exact cause of an outbreak is rarely known.

  • Symptoms

    Symptoms depend on whether or not this is your first episode. The virus remains quiet between outbreaks. During this time, you may not have visible symptoms, but the virus may still be shedding. This means the virus can be spread during sex.

    The number of outbreaks varies. They may decrease over time.

  • Treatment

    Getting treatment as soon as possible is important. Early treatment decreases the chance that you will infect others. It will also help you recover faster from an outbreak. However, it is important to keep in mind that the virus remains in your body. There are no treatments that will rid your body of the virus. There are medicines to decrease the chance that you will have an outbreak.