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What is genital herpes? Causes, symptoms, outbreak, prevention and treatment!

genital herpes

Genital herpes, also known as HSV (herpes simplex virus), is a common sexually transmitted disease that can infect both men and women. There are two different types of herpes — HSV-1 and HSV-2 — and both types can be spread through contact with the mouth, genital area, or anus, depending on the type of herpes.

While oral herpes causes cold sores on the mouth, genital herpes may cause sores on the penis or vagina, though many people have no symptoms at all.

Genital herpes — An overview

Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types of HSV: HSV-1 and HSV-2. Both types can cause genital herpes, but HSV-2 is the most common type.

It’s possible to get both HSV-1 and HSV-2 in the genital area; it’s also possible to have one without having the other. Once you have HSV-1 or HSV-2 on your genitals, you may or may not notice symptoms such as blisters, bumps, sores, or ulcers near your genitals or rectum.

These symptoms tend to go away within 2 to 3 weeks for most people but if left untreated they may come back again and again. The initial episode of genital herpes often causes more severe symptoms than recurrent episodes because the body has not built up immunity yet.

These symptoms include flu-like aches, fever, headache, swollen glands around the groin area and thighs, muscle pain in the lower abdomen or upper thighs (caused by spasms), itching around the vagina or penis, tingling feelings around the vagina or penis that last for several minutes at a time.

When should you worry about genital herpes?

If you have any symptoms of genital herpes, you should see a doctor as soon as possible. Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent the virus from spreading and lessen the severity of symptoms. The virus is incurable but there are treatments that can make it more manageable for those with chronic cases.

The most common medication prescribed for chronic cases is Valtrex, which may reduce the number of outbreaks by half if taken daily. In some instances, steroids may be prescribed in addition to antiviral medication if patients experience severe outbreaks.

Oral acyclovir or famciclovir are also sometimes used. There is no cure for the disease, but early detection and treatment can significantly reduce its impact on your life. It’s important to keep in mind that one-third of all people carry the HSV-2 virus (the strain of herpes responsible for causing genital sores) even if they don’t know it.

The good news is you can take steps to protect yourself and others: get tested regularly, use latex condoms when having sex with an infected partner, avoid sex during outbreaks, practice safe oral sex techniques (such as using dental dams), etc.

How common is genital herpes?

Genital herpes is a common STD, affecting about 1 in 8 people in the United States. Though it’s most commonly associated with HSV-2, anyone can get genital herpes, regardless of whether they have HSV-1 or HSV-2.

It’s possible to have genital herpes and not know it — most people with HSV-2 don’t experience any symptoms. And even if you do have symptoms, they may be so mild that you don’t notice them.

Some people also mistake their infection for an ingrown hair, pimple, or other less serious skin condition. If you think you might have genital herpes, your best bet is to see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment advice.

Genital herpes outbreak:

A person with genital herpes may have just one outbreak during their lifetime or recurrences that happen once every few months to once per year. For some people, even though they don’t have any symptoms, they might still be contagious and pass the disease to sexual partners.

Some women find out they have genital herpes after giving birth because it’s possible for babies to contract HSV through contact with an infected mother’s vaginal fluids or blood during delivery. If this happens, a baby may experience eye problems like conjunctivitis or herpetic stomatitis as well as skin rashes on his/her face and body.

A pregnant woman should tell her doctor about her history of genital herpes so that steps can be taken to prevent transmission of the virus to the child. There is no cure for genital herpes, but there are treatments available to reduce and control outbreaks including antiviral medication which suppresses viral replication.

A doctor will typically prescribe antiviral medications, either orally or locally applied directly on the lesions using creams or ointments. In addition, doctors may recommend suppressive therapy for those who want relief from recurring outbreaks.

Suppressive therapy consists of taking daily doses of antiviral drugs to lessen the frequency and severity of outbreaks. Many people take suppressive therapy for prevention purposes, especially when starting new relationships or if they know that stress triggers previous episodes.

Is it a sexually transmitted disease (STD)?

Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that can cause sores and blisters in the genital and anal area. It is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). HSV is a very common virus that can be spread through sexual contact with someone who has the virus.

There are two types of HSV: HSV-1 and HSV-2. Both types can cause sores in the genital area, but HSV-2 is more likely to cause genital herpes. Women are more likely than men to get infected with HSV-2 as well. The virus spreads from one person’s skin or mucous membranes to another person’s skin or mucous membranes during direct skin-to-skin contact.

Kissing someone who has cold sores on their mouth is also a way to catch genital herpes. To prevent getting or spreading the virus, you should use latex condoms every time you have sex and avoid sharing any items that come into contact with your genitals.

If you do not know if your partner has genital herpes, it is best to play it safe and take precautions such as using condoms for oral sex. If you think you may have been exposed to the virus, see a doctor right away so they can test for it. Doctors will ask about your symptoms and give you an exam to determine if you have the disease.

Some people never develop signs or symptoms of genital herpes, which means they could still pass it on even though they don’t have any obvious problems. Treatment options depend on whether the infection is new or old, but most people need prescription antiviral medications like acyclovir or valacyclovir to manage symptoms and stop future outbreaks.

Some people prefer suppressive therapy, where medication is taken daily to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus. Other treatment options include topical ointments like Zovirax and Valtrex, pills like Acyclovir, Famvir, Valacyclovir and Penciclovir.

Symptoms of genital herpes — how it looks like

The first symptoms of genital herpes usually appear 2 to 20 days after contact with the virus. They last 2 to 4 weeks, and may include:

  • Small, painful blisters on your genitals or anus
  • Itching or burning feeling on your skin
  • Pain when urinating
  • Flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headache, and muscle aches.

If you have any of these symptoms, see your doctor right away. A test can tell if you have been infected with genital herpes. You should also tell your partner so they can be tested and treated if necessary.

There are antiviral medicines that can help make the infection less severe and shorten its duration. Be sure to talk with your doctor about how soon you need treatment and what medicine will work best for you.

How long does the incubation period last for HSV-1 or HSV-2?

The incubation period for HSV-1 or HSV-2 is typically two to twelve days. However, some people may experience symptoms within two days of infection. Others may not experience symptoms until months or even years later.

The first outbreak of genital herpes usually occurs within two weeks of exposure to the virus. Patients are infectious as soon as they are infected with the virus. About half of all adults in the United States have been exposed to the HSV-1 and about one out of four has been exposed to HSV-2.

For many people, their first symptom will be a tingling sensation in the genitals that precedes an outbreak by up to three days. Other symptoms include itching, soreness, burning sensations during urination and painful urination.

If you notice any of these symptoms, it is important to see your doctor right away so that you can get a diagnosis and treatment.

How are HSV types-1 and 2 diagnosed?

A person with HSV-1 or HSV-2 can pass the virus to another person through skin-to-skin contact. The virus can be spread even when there are no symptoms present. Therefore, it’s important to get tested if you think you may have been exposed to the virus.

Your doctor can perform a physical exam and order blood tests or other diagnostic tests to confirm the diagnosis. They will also prescribe antiviral medications like acyclovir, famciclovir, or valacyclovir to shorten the duration of outbreaks and decrease your risk of spreading the virus.

You should start treatment as soon as possible to prevent an outbreak from occurring. If you already know that you have genital herpes, take care not to touch any open sores while they heal. When sores heal, use a condom during sex to reduce the risk of passing on the infection.

It’s best to avoid sex for about two weeks after getting treatment for an active outbreak, because the medication used to treat the infection may cause some irritation in the genitals. Although outbreaks cannot always be prevented, taking these steps can help make them less frequent and less severe.

Additionally, you can talk to your partner about using condoms or limiting their number of sexual partners. Keep in mind that condoms only protect against STDs if used correctly every time and do not provide protection against pregnancy.

If left untreated, both types of HSV can lead to complications such as:

  • Temporary vision loss
  • Eye infections
  • Recurrent bladder infections
  • Chronic pelvic pain
  • Painful urination
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Unusual vaginal bleeding
  • Infertility
  • Irritation
  • Painful intercourse
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Recurring fever
  • Blisters/tender bumps around mouth area

It’s not unusual for people with genital herpes to experience occasional painful blisters around the mouth, which appear inside or outside of the mouth. These sores are usually preceded by tingling in one area of the body and typically occur within minutes before a lesion appears.

How can you treat HSV infections?

There is no cure for HSV infections. However, there are treatments that can help manage the symptoms and shorten the duration of outbreaks. Antiviral medications can be prescribed by a doctor to help manage HSV infections.

In addition, home remedies such as taking a warm bath or applying a cold compress can help soothe the symptoms of an outbreak. Other ways to avoid spreading the virus include not touching any open sores during an outbreak, avoiding sexual contact with anyone who has a genital herpes infection, and practicing safe sex with condoms when it’s not possible to know if your partner has been infected.

You should always tell your sexual partners about any sexually transmitted diseases you have before having sex with them. If you’re pregnant and contract genital herpes, ask your doctor about taking antiviral medication to prevent infecting the baby.

Pregnant women with genital herpes can also take certain types of suppressive therapy to reduce the risk of passing on the virus. Oral acyclovir reduces rates of transmission from mother to child from 30% to 10%.

Newborns infected with HSV may experience fever, seizures, tremors, irritability, poor feeding and diaper rash. These symptoms usually go away within six weeks. The best way to protect newborns against this type of HSV infection is through the use of antiviral drugs taken by their mothers during pregnancy.


In conclusion, genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection that can cause symptoms such as sores or blisters on the genitals. If you think you may have genital herpes, it’s important to see a doctor so they can confirm the diagnosis and prescribe treatment. There is no cure for genital herpes, but antiviral medications can help manage the symptoms and reduce the risk of transmission. Prevention efforts include practicing safe sex and getting tested regularly.

The CDC estimates that about 1 in 6 people between the ages of 14-49 years old in the United States has genital herpes. It can also be spread from an infected mother to her baby during childbirth, which is why it’s important for pregnant women to avoid having sex during their third trimester if they are infected with HSV-2.


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