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Genital Herpes Causes & Risks


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.

Risk Factors

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:

  • Fever
  • Illness or infection
  • Stress
  • Weakened immune system
  • Menstruation
  • Long periods of exposure to sunlight

Often, the cause of an outbreak is unknown.

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 medical condition. Copyright © 2022 EBSCO Publishing All rights reserved.

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