Genital herpes is a highly contagious infection that is caused by a virus. Genital herpes causes fluid-filled blisters or sores on the skin on or around the vagina or penis. The infection can also cause blisters on the anal opening, on the buttocks or thighs, inside the vagina on the cervix, or in the urinary tract of women and men.
The infection is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two different types of HSV:
HSV-2 is usually the cause of genital herpes. But, it can also be caused by HSV-1. HSV-1 is the virus that is associated with cold sores on the mouth.
HSV is a very common sexually transmitted infection. It is transmitted from skin-to-skin contact, especially in places that are warm and moist. The virus enters your body through a cut or opening in the skin. It can also enter through the moist inner lining of the urinary tract, in the vaginal area, the mouth, esophagus, stomach, intestines, and anus.
Once inside, the virus stays in the nerve cells of your body. The virus is still there, even if you do not have any symptoms of genital herpes. Genital herpes is a chronic, life-long infection with symptoms that can come and go throughout your life. But, the frequency or severity of the symptoms may decrease over time.
What are the risk factors for genital herpes?
What are the symptoms of genital herpes?
How is genital herpes diagnosed?
What are the treatments for genital herpes?
Are there screening tests for genital herpes ?
How can I reduce my risk of genital herpes?
What questions should I ask my doctor?
Where can I get more information about genital herpes?
Engelberg R, Carrell D, Krantz E, Corey L, Wald A. Natural history of genital herpes simplex virus type 1 infection. Sex Transm Dis . 2003;30(2):174-177.
Genital herpes. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/genitalHerpes/Pages/default.aspx . Updated January 6, 2012. Accessed February 25, 2013.
Genital herpes—CDC fact sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/stdfact-herpes.htm . Updated February 11, 2013. Accessed February 25, 2013.
Herpes genitalis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what . Updated September 4, 2012. Accessed February 25, 2013.
Mindel A, Marks C. Psychological symptoms associated with genital herpes virus infections: epidemiology and approaches to management. CNS Drugs . 2005;19(4):303-312.
Workowski KA, Berman S, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines, 2010. MMWR . 2010;59(No. RR-12):1-110.
Last reviewed May 2014 by David Horn, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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