Genital herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 or type 2. The virus enters the body through a break in the skin or through mucous membranes. After the first outbreak, the virus migrates to nerve endings at the base of the spine. It will remain there until the next outbreak.
The virus is spread through:
Sexual contact, including intercourse, oral sex, and anal sex
Fluid from herpes blisters that gets on other parts of the body
An infected mother passing it on to her child during pregnancy or childbirth
The virus is most contagious when blisters are present. It is also contagious during the shedding stage. This is the stage before blisters or sores are visible. The virus may also spread when inactive between visible outbreaks.
The strongest risk factor is having unprotected sex with an infected partner.
Once herpes simplex is in the body, other factors can trigger the blisters to form. These can include:
Illness or infection
Weakened immune system
Long periods of exposure to sunlight
Often, the cause of an outbreak is unknown.
Symptoms depend on whether or not this is your first episode. The virus remains dormant between outbreaks. During this time, you may not have visible symptoms. You may still be shedding the virus. This means the virus can be spread during sex.
The number of outbreaks varies. Most people have an outbreak at least once per year.
This is when you are first exposed to the virus. You may not have any symptoms, or you may feel like you have the
. This can include fever and muscle aches. The blisters may be in the genital area or other areas, like the mouth, lips, or tongue. The size and number of ulcers are usually larger during this first time. It takes about two weeks for the primary infection to resolve. If you get another infection it may take up to six weeks for the blisters to go away.
This happens when the virus reactivates in your body. How severe the virus is, how long it lasts, and how much is shed all vary. In most cases, these infections are shorter. They last about 3-7 days. They often have smaller and fewer ulcers. Symptoms are usually around the blister or ulcer area. Remember that you can still spread the virus even if you don't have any symptoms.
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The blisters and ulcers will be looked at. Lesions inside the urinary tract, vagina, or cervix may not be easily seen. To help with the diagnosis, your doctor may:
Open a blister to take a
Have blood tests done
to ease pain include:
Over-the-counter pain medication
Antiviral creams and ointments
Cool cloths placed on blisters or sores
Treatments to speed healing include:
Taking oral antiviral medications
Keeping blisters or sores dry when not bathing
Treatments for bacterial infection of the blisters or sores include:
To prevent the spread of the herpes simplex virus:
to help prevent the spread of genital herpes.
Avoid oral sex if your partner has herpes blisters on the mouth or genital area.
Avoid touching blisters to prevent spreading to other parts of the body.
Ask your doctor about medication that may reduce the chance of spreading the virus.
If you are pregnant and have herpes, tell your doctor. Medication given to newborns immediately after birth can decrease the chance of infection. If you have herpes blisters during delivery, you may need a
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care
provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a
substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the
advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to
starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a