Know the basics
What is genital herpes?
Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection (STIs) that is caused by a virus called herpes simplex virus (HSV). It usually appears as blisters on or around the genitals, rectum or mouth. There are two types of HSV: herpes type 1 and herpes type 2. Herpes type 1, also known as HSV-1 or oral herpes causes sores around the mouth and lips. They are sometimes called cold sores or fever blisters. Although HSV-1 can spread and cause genital herpes, genital herpes are mainly caused by herpes type 2 (or HSV-2). Genital herpes can be spread through direct contact but most often is spread during sexual activity.
How common is genital herpes?
Genitals herpes is a common condition that affects both women and men. Women are more at risk for contracting the virus than men. It commonly affects people who are sexually active. Mothers can also infect their babies during childbirth. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
Know the symptoms
What are the symptoms of genital herpes?
Most people who are infected with HSV may not know they are infected because they may not have any signs or symptoms. Some people who have signs and symptoms may see the following:
- Pain or itching in the genital area or rear;
- Small red bumps or tiny white blisters;
- Ulcers that form when blisters rupture;
- Scabs that form as the ulcers heal;
- Pain when urinating;
- Flu-like symptoms such as swollen lymph nodes in your groin, headache, muscle aches and fever.
Sores can appear around the mouth, rectal area, and genital areas. Genitals herpes is different for everyone. The signs and symptoms may recur off and on for years. For some they may experience symptoms several times a year and for others may not have any symptoms.
There may be some signs or symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
You should contact your doctor if you have any signs of genital herpes. If you are sexually active, it’s important to get check regularly for any sexual transmitted infections (STIs). Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
Know the causes
What causes genital herpes?
Genital herpes is caused by a herpes virus called herpes simplex virus (HSV). It can be spread through direct contact, sex, oral sex or from infected mother to baby. Once infected, the virus lives dormant inside the body and can reactivate several times a year. There are 2 types of herpes virus.
- Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) causes cold sores and fever blisters but can spread to the genital area during oral sex.
- Herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) commonly causes genital herpes. It is highly contagious and can be spread through sexual contact and skin to skin contact.
Viruses usually die quickly outside the body. It is impossible to contract the virus from sitting on a toilet seat or using a bath towel from an infected person.
Know the risk factors
What increases my risk for genital herpes?
There are some risk factors for genital herpes, such as:
- Your gender: Cases have shown that it is easier for women to contract the virus than men.
- Having multiple sexual partners: Your risk increases with each additional partner. It is always important to have safe sex and get tested regularly.
- Weak immune system: This makes you more susceptible to contract the virus.
Understand the diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is genital herpes diagnosed?
Doctors will use these following tests to diagnose if you have genital herpes:
- Viral culture test. This test takes a sample from the skin ulcer or sore to confirm the presence of the herpes virus.
- Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. This test takes your DNA from your blood sample to determine the presence of HSV and type.
- Blood tests. This is to check for HSV antibodies, which detects any past infections of the herpes virus.
If you are pregnant, you should let your doctor know right away. Your doctor may prescribe some anti-viral drugs towards the end of your pregnancy to avoid you from transmitting the virus to your baby. In some cases your doctor may recommend performing a C-section to deliver your baby sooner.
How is genital herpes treated?
There is no cure for genital herpes. Treatment is used to manage your symptoms and prevent breakouts. If you do not have symptoms, you do usually do not need treatment. Your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication. Reasons for using an anti-viral are:
- To help sores heal sooner,
- Reduce the frequency of recurrence,
- Lessen the severity and duration of the symptoms
- Minimize the chance of spreading to another person.
These drugs include acyclovir (Zovirax®), famciclovir (Famvir®), valacyclovir (Valtrex®).
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage genital herpes?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with genital herpes:
- Take the medication by following doctor’s instruction properly.
- Keep your herpes dry and clean.
- Avoid touching the ulcer. You should wash your hands frequently to prevent spreading to other people or other body part.
- Avoid having unprotected sex.
- If you are pregnant, tell your doctor to know how to protect your baby.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Ferri, Fred. Ferri’s Netter Patient Advisor. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders / Elsevier, 2012. Print edition. Page 373.
Genital herpes. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/genital-herpes/basics/definition/con-20020893. Accessed July 23, 2016.
Genital herpes. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000857.htm. Accessed July 23, 2016.
Genital herpes. http://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/stdfact-herpes.htm. Accessed July 23, 2016.
Review Date: May 30, 2016 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017