Herpes simplex of the genitals

What Is Genital Herpes?

Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two main types of HSV, type 1 and type 2, both of which can cause genital herpes. In the United States, about one out of every six people 14 to 49 years old have genital herpes.

Genital herpes is most often spread through sexual contact, particularly through sexual intercourse or genital-to-genital contact. It can also be spread from a pregnant woman to her baby during childbirth. HSV is highly contagious and can be spread even when no symptoms are present. That is why it is important to practice safe sex by using condoms and dental dams during sexual contact.

Symptoms of Genital Herpes

Every person infected with HSV will experience different symptoms. In some cases, symptoms may be mild or absent altogether. In other cases, symptoms can be severe and may include:

  • Painful blisters and sores in the genital area
  • Itching or burning sensation in the genital area
  • Pain when urinating
  • Swollen lymph glands in the groin area
  • Fever, body aches, or flu-like symptoms

Diagnosis and Treatment

If you are experiencing genital herpes symptoms, it is important to visit your doctor or health provider as soon as possible as diagnosis and treatment can vary. Your health provider may take a swab of your genital area to test for the HSV virus, or may recommend a blood test.

If you do have genital herpes, your provider may recommend antiviral medications to help reduce the severity of symptoms during outbreaks and shorten the healing time. These medications are typically taken for 2-3 weeks during an outbreak but may be taken as a preventative measure for people in frequent, recurrent outbreaks.

It is also important to take steps to prevent the spread of HSV, including practicing safe sex and informing sexual partners that you have genital herpes before engaging in any sexual activity.