At least 45 million American adults and adolescents have genital herpes. That translates to one out of every four to five people with the condition, making it one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases. Genital herpes is more common in women than in men.
Genital herpes is caused by two viruses: herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2).
HSV-1 is the type that usually causes cold sores or fever blisters around the mouth, although it can be spread to the genital area during oral sex.
HSV-2 is the type that commonly causes genital herpes. This can manifest as sores, blisters or a rash. Genital herpes enters the body through small breaks in the skin or mucous membranes. It is highly contagious and is spread through secretions from the mouth or genitals. Sexual contact is the primary way the virus is transmitted. Usually it is through intercourse with an infected person, but it can be transmitted through anal or oral sex as well.
Many people infected with HSV-2 never get sores, or they have such mild symptoms that they do not even notice them or mistake them for insect bites or other skin conditions. When they are present, genital herpes symptoms can include the appearance of small red bumps, painful blisters filled with clear or straw-colored fluid, or open sores in the genital, anal or nearby areas.
Pregnant women who have genital herpes can pass the infection to their newborn during delivery.
The virus dies quickly outside of the body, so it is next to impossible to get genital herpes through contact with toilets, towels or other objects used by an infected person.
There is no cure for herpes and unfortunately, once you are infected, the virus stays in your body for the rest of your life. It can remain dormant for a long period of time. It lies inactive in the nerve cells until something triggers it to become active again. Some people never have another occurrence and others have frequent outbreaks.
Genital herpes treatment includes oral prescription antiviral medications.
The best ways to prevent genital herpes include avoiding all sexual contact, including oral sex.