What is Genital Herpes?

  • Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease caused by the herpes simplex viruses type 2 (HSV-2)
  • The vast majority of genital herpes is caused by HSV-2 but occasionally can be HSV-1
  • 1 out of 4 women have HSV-2 and 1 out of 8 men have HSV-2
  • The psychological impact is significant causing anxiety and stress
  • 90% of those infected with the virus are unaware of this infection
  • You can still have a normal, healthy relationship both emotionally and physically
  • There are millions of people in the United States with genital herpes so you are not alone

Signs and Symptoms

      • Most people are not aware of their infection
      • The first outbreak usually occurs within 2 weeks after exposure
      • Blisters usually appear around the genitals or rectum
      • The blisters break forming ulcers that are tender and may take 2-4 weeks to heal
      • Other signs of a primary outbreak include flu-like symptoms, fever, swollen glands
      • Secondary outbreaks are usually less severe and shorter in duration
      • Most people with HSV-2 have never had sores or have very mild signs that they do not notice or mistake for another skin condition
      • Although outbreaks come and go, the virus lives or remains dormant in the body indefinitely


    • The HSV-1 and HSV-2 viruses are released from the sores
    • The HSV-1 and HSV-2 viruses are also released between outbreaks from skin that does not appear to have a sore
    • Transmission typically occurs during sexual contact with an infected partner by skin-to- skin contact
    • Transmission can also occur from an infected partner who does not have a visible sore and may not know that he or she has the infection


      • Genital herpes causes recurrent genital sores that are painful
      • Infection can be severe in people with suppressed immune systems
      • Herpes can make people more susceptible to HIV infection
      • Herpes can make HIV-infected people more infectious

Pregnancy Complications

      • It is important to avoid contracting the infection during pregnancy because a newly acquired infection late in pregnancy increases the risk of transmission to the baby
      • If a woman has active herpes at the time of delivery a cesarean section is usually performed
      • Genital herpes can cause a serious infection in babies born during a primary outbreak


      • Health care providers can often diagnose genital herpes by visual inspection if the outbreak is typical
      • However, the signs and symptoms of HSV-2 can vary greatly and resemble other skin conditions
      • A sample from the sore can also be taken and tested in the laboratory
      • Diagnosis can also be make by use of a blood test, which detects antibodies
      • These antibodies take at least 6 weeks to be detectable


      • There is no treatment for the virus but antiviral medications can shorten and prevent outbreaks
      • Daily suppressive therapy can reduce transmission to partners


  • The best way to avoid transmission of sexually transmitted diseases is to abstain from sexual contact
  • Latex condoms can reduce the risk of genital herpes but genital herpes can also occur in areas that are not covered by a latex condom
  • People with genital herpes should abstain from sexual contact when lesions or other symptoms of herpes are present
  • It is very important to know that even if your partner has no symptoms of herpes, he or she can still infect sex partners
  • Transmission of an STD cannot be prevented by washing the genitals, urinating, and/or douching after sex
  • Cannot be spread through contact with toilet seats, doorknobs, swimming pools, hot tubs, bathtubs, shared clothing, eating utensils