What is Genital Herpes?

Genital herpes is an incurable sexually transmitted disease caused by the herpes simplex virus. Generally, HSV-1 affects the mouth, and HSV-2 is the one that causes genital herpes. However, both types can be transmitted from one area to the other during oral sex.


Genital herpes is most often spread through sex with an infected person. Additionally, it is possible to contract genital herpes from other close skin-on-skin contact. Transmission generally happens during:

  • Anal Sex
  • Oral Sex
  • Vaginal Sex

It is also possible for pregnant women to pass the infection on to their baby during childbirth.

Get tested for Genital Herpes (HSV-2)

Genital herpes does not generally cause other problems. However, it does increase your risk of contracting other STDs including HIV. Act immediately and get tested today!

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What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Genital Herpes in Men and Women?

Symptoms make take upto a month or longer to appear after infection.

Symptoms of genital herpes vary greatly from one person to another. Some people may not even be aware that they have herpes because their symptoms are not really noticeable. Symptoms that may be noticed are:

  • Sores near the point on the body where the virus entered
    • Initially small red bumps
    • Progress to blisters
    • Then to itchy, possibly painful sores that will crust over before healing
  • Fever
  • Body aches
  • Swollen glands near the groin
  • Pain during urination
  • Vaginal discharge

How Do I Know if I Have Herpes?

Genital herpes is characterized by the breakout of ulcers in the genital area. If symptoms do appear, the first episode of herpes symptoms (called primary outbreak) is usually severe. Majority of the persons who suffer primary outbreak will have further symptom outbreaks. The virus can also re-activate with no further outbreaks. When this happens, the virus can still be transmitted through non-visible sores.

However, most infected persons aren’t aware they have genital herpes – they mistake the symptoms for insect bites or they don’t manifest any noticeable symptoms at all. For this reason, it’s important to get regularly tested for HSV if you’re sexually active.

What Are the Complications and Risks of Genital Herpes?

Genital herpes does not generally cause other problems. However, it does increase your risk of contracting other STDs including HIV. Pregnant women who are infected with genital herpes can pass it to their baby and this can lead to severe problems and potentially even death. In patients with weakened immune systems it can also lead to herpes of the eyes which may eventually result in blindness.

Partners and Re-infection

Sexual partners can easily contract genital herpes even when you appear to be symptom free. They should be encouraged to be tested. Additionally, in order to protect your partner from infection, be sure to use your anti-viral drugs every day.

How is Genital Herpes Treated?

Treatment does not cure you of HSV rather it reduces the outbreaks. Medications used include antiviral drugs. Antiviral drugs facilitates healing of the sores and also serves as an analgesic. You should take your medications once the outbreaks show up. General medications administered include famciclovir (Famvir), valacyclovir (Valtrex), and acyclovir (Zovirax). Medications are administered orally.

Recovery Time

The initial outbreak of genital herpes can last over 20 days. However, recovery from subsequent outbreaks is usually quicker.

Sexual Activity

If you are in the midst of an outbreak, avoid sex, and be sure to correctly use latex condoms at all other times


Recurrences of genital herpes are generally milder than the initial outbreak, and the frequency of outbreaks tends to decrease over time (average is roughly 4 per year). Symptoms during recurrence can be so mild that an infected person is unaware that they are even having an outbreak. Sores tend to be much smaller, if visible at all. Itching and burning are not uncommon during a recurrence but are usually less severe than with the initial outbreak.

Mark Riegel, MD

Quick Snapshot

Can it be cured?

No. Viruses don't have cures, but symptoms can be controlled with proper treatment.

Type of Infection

Viral. Caused by the herpes simplex virus.

How is it treated?

Antiviral Medicine. Symptoms are treated with antiviral medications (Zovirax, Famvir, or Valtrex), however there is no cure.

Recovery Time

1 month or longer. The symptoms from the initial outbreak can take over 20 days to disappear.

Can I have sex?

Yes. During your initial outbreak, you should refrain from sex until all symptoms are gone.

Can I get re-infected?

Yes. Once you get infected, you will have the virus for life.

Do I Have Genital Herpes?

Find out whether or not you have Genital Herpes and what STD test is recommended using our anonymous symptom checker. Get your personalized recommendations now!

Genital Herpes Symptom Checker

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