What is genital herpes?

Genital Herpes

Genital herpes in teens: Overview

Genital herpes is caused by a virus called herpes simplex. There are two types of this virus. Type 2 is the type that usually causes genital herpes. But type 1 can also cause it. Type 1 is the type that causes cold sores.

Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). The most common way to get it is through sexual or other contact with someone who has herpes. For example, the virus can spread from a sore in the genital area to the lips. And it can spread from a cold sore on the lips to the genital area.

Some people are surprised to find out that they have herpes or that they gave it to someone else. This is because a lot of people who have it don't know that they have it. They may not get sores, or they may have sores that they cannot see. But the virus can still be spread by a person who does not have obvious sores or symptoms.

There is no cure for herpes, but antiviral medicine can help you feel better and help prevent more outbreaks. This medicine may also lower the chance of spreading the virus.

Finding out that you have genital herpes can cause a wide range of emotions. Talking to your partner, a counselor, or a support group may help you feel better. And as you get older, you may not get as many outbreaks. The sores may also heal faster and not hurt as much.

Genital herpes

Genital herpes is an infection that is spread through sexual contact. It may cause skin blisters and sores in the genital area but often causes no visible symptoms. Some people may have only a single outbreak of herpes. Other people will have repeated outbreaks.

Herpes can be bothersome, but it usually doesn't cause serious problems in healthy adults.

What happens when you have genital herpes?

Genital herpes symptoms usually appear 2 to 14 days after infection with the virus. But some people may not have their first symptoms for months or even years. After the first outbreak, the herpes virus becomes inactive. Then it usually gets active again from time to time throughout life, causing blisters and sores.

Herpes simplex virus type 2 symptoms (genital herpes)

Location of genital herpes, with close-up of blisters

Herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) can cause groups of small blisters or sores that usually occur on or around the genitals or the anus. This is called genital herpes. The sores may be itchy or painful.

How is genital herpes treated?

Although there is no cure for genital herpes, medicine can help. It can be taken during an outbreak to relieve pain and itching and help sores heal faster. It can also be taken daily to help prevent outbreaks. Home treatment, such as taking warm sitz baths, can help relieve discomfort from sores.

How is genital herpes diagnosed?

Your doctor may diagnose genital herpes by examining you. He or she may ask you questions about your symptoms and how you think you were exposed to herpes. If this is your first outbreak, your doctor may take a sample of fluid from the sore for testing. You may also have a blood test.

How can you care for yourself when you have genital herpes?

Be safe with medicines. Take your medicines exactly as directed. To reduce pain and itching from herpes sores, wash the area 3 or 4 times a day with water, air-dry the sores, and wear cotton underwear. Take an over-the-counter medicine for pain, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin).

What is genital herpes?

Genital herpes is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Most people never have symptoms, or the symptoms are so mild that people don't know that they're infected. But in some people, the infection causes occasional outbreaks of itchy and painful sores in the genital area.

What causes genital herpes?

Genital herpes is caused by a virus—either the herpes simplex virus type 1 or the herpes simplex virus type 2. You get infected when the virus enters your body. It can enter through a break in the skin or through moist areas such as the mouth, anus, and vagina.

Genital herpes: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have a new fever.
  • There is increasing redness or red streaks around herpes sores.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You have herpes and you think you might be pregnant.
  • You have an outbreak of herpes sores, and the sores are not healing.
  • You have frequent outbreaks of genital herpes sores.
  • You are unable to pass urine or are constipated.
  • You want to start antiviral medicine.
  • You do not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.