What is Genital Herpes?

Genital herpes is an STD contracted from either the HSV-1 or HSV-2 virus. Genital herpes cases are predominantly caused by the HSV-2 virus, but HSV-1 cases are growing steadily due to oral sex.

When symptoms appear, genital herpes presents itself as sores or lesions on the genitals, anus or upper thighs. To date, there are no statistics regarding how many Americans have genital herpes, only statistics on how many have HSV-2.

This is because the blood tests that detect HSV-1 and HSV-2 are not able to tell you where on the body the virus is residing (orally or genitally).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 776,000 people in the U.S. are infected annually with HSV-2, but they are not certain how many of these cases are oral herpes or genital herpes.

Genital herpes symptoms usually appear 2-12 days after exposure to the virus and emerge as vesicles (or blisters) in the genital area or rectum.

How is genital herpes transmitted?

Genital herpes can be contracted from infected bodily fluids, including semen, vaginal fluid, saliva or herpes lesions, sores or blister fluid. Genital herpes is transmitted through unprotected oral, vaginal or anal sex, or from skin-to-skin contact with an infected partner.

Chances of transmitting genital herpes (whether HSV-1 or HSV-2) increase if there are open, active sores or lesions present. It is possible to contract genital herpes even if your partner does not show symptoms.

Genital herpes can only be prevented by abstaining from sexual activities. Latex or polyurethane condoms can help lower the risk of transmission for those who are sexually active, but because condoms do not cover all of the area that may be infected, genital HSV-1 and HSV-2 can still be contracted while using a condom.

What are the symptoms of genital herpes?

Symptoms of genital herpes include vesicles, sores, lesions, blisters, painful ulcers, itching and/or burning in the genital area, anus or upper thighs.

Approximately two-thirds of people with genital herpes do not experience symptoms or have symptoms that are so mild they are confused with other skin conditions.

In instances where symptoms are not present, genital herpes can still be transmitted. Our doctors recommend getting tested for both herpes type 1 and herpes type 2 to learn your status.

What should I know about the herpes tests?

Herpes type 1 antibodies have a development period of 2 weeks to 6 months after initial infection. This is the time it takes for enough antibodies to develop that can be detected through the ELISA test. This period varies from person to person.

Herpes type 2 antibodies have a development period of 3 weeks to 6 months after initial infection. This is the time it takes for enough antibodies to develop that can be detected through the ELISA test. This period varies from person to person

Is there a cure for genital herpes?

No, genital herpes, whether caused by HSV-1 or HSV-2 is not a curable sexually transmitted disease. However, antiviral medication is available to help prevent and control symptoms of outbreaks.

What if I don’t get treated for genital herpes?

Some herpes viruses can cause meningitis or encephalitis. HSV encephalitis is mainly caused by HSV-1, whereas meningitis is more often caused by HSV-2.

Herpes viruses have been linked to Recurrent Lymphocytic Meningitis (Mollaret’s meningitis), which is characterized by sudden attacks of meningitis symptoms that last for 2-7 days and are separated by symptom-free (latent) intervals lasting for weeks, months or years.

Genital herpes and pregnancy

Genital herpes can be very dangerous to an infant during childbirth. If the mother has an active infection (whether or not symptoms are present), the baby can contract the virus.

If the baby contracts the virus during birth, it can affect the skin, eyes, mouth, central nervous system, and/or even spread to internal organs via disseminated disease which can cause organ failure and lead to death.

Disseminated diseases that result can include hepatitis, pneumonitis, disseminated intravascular coagulation, or a combination, with or without encephalitis or skin disease.

What are the symptoms of genital herpes?

Symptoms of genital herpes include vesicles, sores, lesions, blisters, painful ulcers, itching and/or burning in the genital area, anus or upper thighs.

Approximately two-thirds of people with genital herpes do not experience symptoms or have symptoms that are so mild they are mistaken for other skin conditions.

In instances where symptoms are not present, genital herpes can still be transmitted. Our doctors recommend getting tested for both herpes type 1 and herpes type 2 to learn your status since either strain of the virus can occur in the genital area.

Genital Herpes Symptoms in Men

Most Common
  • Silent or no symptoms (two-thirds of cases)
Less Common
  • Sores or blisters on the penis
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • Body aches
  • Swollen lymph nodes
Least Common
  • Sores, blisters, or ulcers
    • Inside or around the anus
    • Around the buttocks and thighs
  • Meningitis
  • Encephalitis
  • Eye infection
  • Eczema herpetiform

Genital Herpes Symptoms in Women

Most Common
  • Silent or no symptoms
Less Common
  • Sores or blisters
    • Around the vaginal region
    • On the vulva or cervix
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • Body aches
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Vaginal itch
  • Painful urination
Least Common
  • Sores, blisters, or ulcers
    • inside or around the anus
    • around the buttocks and thighs
  • Trouble urinating
  • Meningitis
  • Encephalitis
  • Eczema herpetiform
  • Eye infection

How will I know if I have genital herpes?

Genital herpes is not usually accommodated by symptoms. Two-thirds of genital herpes cases are asymptomatic.

Getting tested for both HSV-1 and HSV-2 is the only sure way to know if you have genital herpes.

Blisters or sores in the genital area, fever, body aches, swollen lymph nodes, headaches, tiredness and painful urination call all be symptoms of genital herpes.

What do genital herpes outbreaks feel or look like?

Patients with genital herpes have reported that outbreaks or episodes typically diminish through the years.

Early prodromal symptoms, or warning signals, that are followed by outbreaks. These prodromal symptoms often include mild tingling or shooting pains in the legs, hips and buttocks, and can last from 2 hours to 2 days.

After the prodromal symptoms occur the blisters develop into painful red spots, which then evolve into yellowish, clear fluid-filled blisters after a day or two.

These blisters burst or break and leave ulcers that usually heal in about 10 days. In women, blisters can develop inside the vagina and cause painful urination.

What causes or triggers genital herpes outbreaks?

Although the cause is unknown, outbreaks are often associated with periods of weakened immune systems, skin wounds, menstruation, fever, nerve damage, tissue damage from surgery, or exposure to extreme climate situations.

A genital herpes outbreak or episode occurs when the HSV-1 or HSV-2 virus is reactivated from its dormant stage. Genital herpes is an incurable disease, and once you contract it, you may experience outbreaks throughout your lifetime.

Those who are experiencing their first herpes episode of genital herpes can expect to have several (typically four or five) outbreaks within a year.

Over time these recurrences usually decrease in frequency and severity. The first outbreak of herpes is often the longest outbreak experienced. After that, short and inconsistent episodes can be managed and treated with antiretroviral medication.

Genital herpes and pregnancy

Genital herpes can be very dangerous to an infant during childbirth. If the mother has an active infection (whether or not symptoms are present), the baby can contract the virus.

If the baby contracts the virus during birth, it can affect the skin, eyes, mouth, central nervous system, and/or even spread to internal organs via disseminated disease which can cause organ failure and lead to death.

Disseminated diseases that result can include hepatitis, pneumonitis, disseminated intravascular coagulation, or a combination, with or without encephalitis or skin disease.

What are the symptoms of genital herpes in men?

Symptoms of genital herpes include vesicles, sores, lesions, blisters, painful ulcers, itching and/or burning in the genital area, anus or upper thighs.

Approximately two-thirds of people with genital herpes do not experience symptoms or have symptoms that are so mild they are confused with other skin conditions.

In instances where symptoms are not present, genital herpes can still be transmitted. Our doctors recommend getting tested for both herpes type 1 and herpes type 2 to learn your status.

Genital herpes symptoms in men

Most common symptoms

  • Silent or no symptoms (two-thirds of cases)

Less common symptoms

  • Sores or blisters on the penis
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • Body aches
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Least common symptoms

  • Sores, blisters, or ulcers
    • Inside or around the anus
    • Around the buttocks and thighs
  • Meningitis
  • Encephalitis
  • Eye infection
  • Eczema herpetiform

How will I know if I have genital herpes?

Genital herpes is not usually accommodated by symptoms. Two-thirds of genital herpes cases are asymptomatic. Getting tested for both HSV-1 and HSV-2 is the only sure way to know if you have genital herpes. Blisters or sores in the genital area, fever, body aches, swollen lymph nodes, headaches, tiredness and painful urination call all be symptoms of genital herpes.

What do genital herpes outbreaks feel or look like?

Patients with genital herpes have reported that outbreaks or episodes typically diminish through the years. Early prodromal symptoms, or warning signals, that are followed by outbreaks.

These prodromal symptoms often include mild tingling or shooting pains in the legs, hips and buttocks, and can last from 2 hours to 2 days.

After the prodromal symptoms occur the blisters develop into painful red spots, which then evolve into yellowish, clear fluid-filled blisters after a day or two.

These blisters burst or break and leave ulcers that usually heal in about 10 days. In women, blisters can develop inside the vagina and cause painful urination.

What causes or triggers genital herpes outbreaks?

Although the cause is unknown, outbreaks are often associated with periods of weakened immune systems, skin wounds, menstruation, fever, nerve damage, tissue damage from surgery, or exposure to extreme climate situations.

A genital herpes outbreak or episode occurs when the HSV-1 or HSV-2 virus is reactivated from its dormant stage. Genital herpes is an incurable disease, and once you contract it, you may experience outbreaks throughout your lifetime.

Those who are experiencing their first herpes episode of genital herpes can expect to have several (typically four or five) outbreaks within a year.

Over time these recurrences usually decrease in frequency and severity. The first outbreak of herpes is often the longest outbreak experienced. After that, short and inconsistent episodes can be managed and treated with antiviral medication.

Genital herpes symptoms in women

Most common symptoms

  • Silent or no symptoms

Less common symptoms

  • Sores or blisters
    • Around the vaginal region
    • On the vulva or cervix
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • Body aches
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Vaginal itch
  • Painful urination

Least common symptoms

  • Sores, blisters, or ulcers
    • inside or around the anus
    • around the buttocks and thighs
  • Trouble urinating
  • Meningitis
  • Encephalitis
  • Eczema herpetiform
  • Eye infection

How will I know if I have genital herpes?

Genital herpes is not usually accommodated by symptoms. Two-thirds of genital herpes cases are asymptomatic. Getting tested for both HSV-1 and HSV-2 is the only sure way to know if you have genital herpes.

Blisters or sores in the genital area, fever, body aches, swollen lymph nodes, headaches, tiredness and painful urination call all be symptoms of genital herpes.

What do genital herpes outbreaks feel or look like?

Patients with genital herpes have reported that outbreaks or episodes typically diminish through the years. Early prodromal symptoms, or warning signals, that are followed by outbreaks.

These prodromal symptoms often include mild tingling or shooting pains in the legs, hips and buttocks, and can last from 2 hours to 2 days.

After the prodromal symptoms occur the blisters develop into painful red spots, which then evolve into yellowish, clear fluid-filled blisters after a day or two.

These blisters burst or break and leave ulcers that usually heal in about 10 days. In women, blisters can develop inside the vagina and cause painful urination.

What causes or triggers genital herpes outbreaks?

Although the cause is unknown, outbreaks are often associated with periods of weakened immune systems, skin wounds, menstruation, fever, nerve damage, tissue damage from surgery, or exposure to extreme climate situations.

A genital herpes outbreak or episode occurs when the HSV-1 or HSV-2 virus is reactivated from its dormant stage. Genital herpes is an incurable disease, and once you contract it, you may experience outbreaks throughout your lifetime.

Those who are experiencing their first herpes episode of genital herpes can expect to have several (typically four or five) outbreaks within a year.

Over time these recurrences usually decrease in frequency and severity. The first outbreak of herpes is often the longest outbreak experienced. After that, short and inconsistent episodes can be managed and treated with antiviral medication.

How is genital herpes spread?

Genital herpes can be contracted from infected bodily fluids, including semen, vaginal fluid, saliva or herpes lesions, sores or blister fluid. Genital herpes can only be prevented by abstaining from sexual activities.

Having open blisters or sores, and infected bodily fluids increase the chances of spreading genital herpes. Even if someone is infected and does not show any symptoms, transmission of genital herpes can occur.

Genital herpes cannot be spread through toiletries, toilet seats, clothes or utensils, because the virus cannot survive outside the body.

How can I prevent getting genital herpes?

Abstaining from sexual intercourse is the only 100% effective way of preventing or spreading genital herpes.

Being in a long-term monogamous relationship with someone who has been tested and does not have HSV-1 or HSV-2 can greatly help reduce your chances of contracting genital herpes.

Latex or polyurethane condoms can help lower the risk of transmission of genital herpes for those who are sexually active, but because condoms do not cover all of the area that may be infected, genital HSV-1 and HSV-2 can still be contracted while using a condom.

What are the complications from untreated genital herpes?

Some herpes viruses can cause meningitis or encephalitis. HSV encephalitis is mainly caused by HSV-1, whereas meningitis is more often caused by HSV-2.

Herpes viruses have been linked to Recurrent Lymphocytic Meningitis (Mollaret’s meningitis), which is characterized by sudden attacks of meningitis symptoms that last for 2-7 days and are separated by symptom-free (latent) intervals lasting for weeks, months or years.severe and persistent in people with suppressed immune systems. This is why HIV-infected persons are prone to complications of Herpes 2.

If you have genital herpes, it is important to tell your partner.

Genital herpes is a very contagious sexually transmitted disease, and if you have been diagnosed positive, it is important to tell your partner.

This will allow him or her to help avoid genital herpes complications by getting tested and treated as soon as possible.

If you are pregnant, get tested for genital herpes

Since genital herpes can be passed from mother to child during childbirth, it is important to get tested if you are pregnant. Herpes infections can be especially dangerous for infants.

According to CDC, at the onset of labor women should be carefully examined and questioned to evaluate the presence of prodromal symptoms or herpetic lesions (blisters).

If symptoms or outbreaks are present, a cesarean delivery is recommended to prevent the transmission of the virus to the infant.

If the baby contracts the virus during birth, it can affect the skin, eyes, mouth, central nervous system, and/or even spread to internal organs via disseminated disease which can cause organ failure and lead to death.

Disseminated diseases that result can include hepatitis, pneumonitis, disseminated intravascular coagulation, or a combination, with or without encephalitis or skin disease.

Is there a link between HIV and herpes?

Genitally, the herpes viruses cause genital ulcerative disease, which makes it easier to transmit and acquire HIV.

This occurs when there are blisters or tears in the skin or mucous membranes (mouth, vagina, and rectum) allowing for the HIV virus to have an easier access to the body leading to increased possibility of infections like HIV.

Is there a cure for genital herpes?

No, genital herpes, whether caused by HSV-1 or HSV-2 is not a curable sexually transmitted disease. However, antiviral medication is available to help prevent and control symptoms of outbreaks.

Can I get re-infected with genital herpes?

You cannot get re-infected with genital herpes as both HSV-1 and HSV-2 are viral infections that remain in the body for life. Once you contract it, the body is unable to get rid of it.

You may experience recurring outbreaks in the genital area that might seem like re-infections, but this is not the case.

Outbreaks are just the symptoms of genital herpes exposing themselves. Even though you cannot become re-infected, you can infect someone else with genital herpes, especially during an active outbreak.

Do herpes antiviral drugs help prevent spreading the virus?

Yes but not completely. If you have Herpes-2 but your sexual partner does not, taking a daily dose of your antiviral medication will reduce the chances that your partner could contract the infection.

Latex or polyurethane condoms can help lessen the likelihood of spreading or contracting genital herpes, but since condoms do not cover all of the area where herpes may be they are not 100% effective against herpes. Doctors recommend abstaining from sexual activity during herpes outbreaks.

Antiviral medications, such as acyclovir, famciclovir, and valacyclovir, are the most effective medications available for people infected with herpes.

These medications are used to help to reduce the severity and frequency of symptoms, however they cannot cure the infection.