Genital herpes is a common sexually transmitted infection that can cause sores to develop on the genitals. Some people have genital herpes without any symptoms.
What is genital herpes?
People can contract this sexually transmitted infection (STI) through vaginal, anal, and oral sex.
Two types of virus can cause genital herpes:
- herpes simplex 1 (HSV-1), which usually causes oral herpes
- herpes simplex 2 (HSV-2), which usually causes genital herpes
Oral herpes causes cold sores, or fever blisters, to appear on the lips. People usually get oral herpes through salivary contact rather than genital contact.
How common is genital herpes?
Genital herpes is very common, affecting 11.9 percentTrusted Source of people ages 14–49 in the United States.
Females are more likely to have genital herpes than males because vaginal tissues can tear easily, allowing the virus to enter the body. Estimates suggestTrusted Source that genital herpes affects 1 in 5 females and 1 in 10 males ages 14–49.
Genital herpes does not always cause symptoms. A person may not know that they have this virus until it shows on a routine STI test.
When genital herpes does lead to symptoms, it typically causes open sores on the genitals and anus.
Initially, the sores usually develop on the part of the body that was first exposed to the virus. The lesions usually appear between 2 days and 3 weeks of sexual contact with a person who has genital herpes.
The hallmark of genital herpes is small blisters that break open, leaving painful sores that can take 2–6 weeks to heal. A person may mistake a mild case of herpes for a few pimples or ingrown hairs.
Often, a person first feels tingling or itching around their genitals, which can last up to a day. They may also notice the following symptoms:
- a headache
- tiredness or fatigue
- swollen lymph nodes
- muscle pain
How to treat genital herpes
There is no cure for genital herpes but there is a natural treatment for herpes. It lays dormant in the body for long periods, then reappears as an outbreak of sores.
However, doctors can prescribe medications that reduce the likelihood of recurring outbreaks. These medicines may also lower the risk of transmitting the virus.
When a person has a genital herpes outbreak, they may be able to promote healing and lower the risk of transmitting the virus by:
- avoiding sexual contact with another person until the sores have healed
- keeping the sores clean and dry
- refraining from touching the sores whenever possible
- washing the hands immediately after touching the sores
- using barrier protection during sexual contact until told otherwise by a doctor
The first herpes outbreak is usually the worst — subsequent outbreaks tend to become less bothersome.
Genital herpes is an STI that a person can transmit through vaginal, anal, or oral sex. It is usually caused by the HSV-2 virus, but it can also be caused by HSV-1.
There is no cure for genital herpes, but by taking antiviral medication, a person can reduce the likelihood of outbreaks and the risk of transmitting the virus.
A doctor can help diagnose genital herpes and recommend treatment options.