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What is Genital Herpes?

lab tests Genital Herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus II (HSV-II). It is estimated that one million new cases occur each year in the U.S alone. The infection is transmitted during sexual intercourse or by other intimate contact with the genitals, mouth, or rectal area. Once you're infected, the virus remains in your body for the rest of your life. Usually it’s in an inactive state, which means it is not causing symptoms.

The virus may become active at any time and in some people the disease may recur frequently. Outbreaks can occur from physical or emotional stress, tight clothing, intercourse without enough lubrication, menstruation, or the stress of an illness, like the flu. Herpes is very contagious, especially when sores are present. However, it can be contagious when there are no obvious sores. After their first outbreak of herpes, some people shed active virus particles even though they don't have any symptoms themselves at all.

Remember, you CAN infect other people even when you don't have any blisters, and you CAN be infected even if you don't see any blisters on someone else.

Herpes can be diagnosed from a smear taken from a lesion by a health care provider. Diagnosis is often based on symptoms alone. Herpes will not be tested for or detected by a routine pap smear!

For more on whether to suppress an outbreak or not, go to "Herpes Suppression".


The symptoms of herpes are often most severe during the first outbreak.
Initial Symptoms of HSV-II include:

Tingling, itching, and pain in the genital area, followed by eruption of small clear blisters, (lesions). The blisters often appear in groups, or clusters. Some people only get one blister sometimes. These lesions rupture on about the 5th day to form wet ulcers that are terribly painful to touch, and can be associated with painful sex, painful urination, pain in the lymph nodes in the groin and terrible pain in area of the blisters.

In women, blister can appear on the vulva, around or in the vagina, or anywhere in the genital area. Involvement of the cervix occurs about 80% of the time during the first outbreak -- but you can't see your cervix yourself -- your health care provider can. In men, the infection can cause lesions on the penis, on the penis shaft, on the glans penis (head) and scrotum, and sometimes in the urethra. Some people infected with genital herpes will have NO symptoms at all.

Initial symptoms and recurrent outbreak symptoms may include:

painful sores (blisters) on the genitals of both sexes, thighs, or buttocks
tingling, and itching
fever (often only with the first outbreak of blisters)
flu-like symptoms (headache, muscle ache, fever, chills, fatigue)
vaginal discharge
painful urination
painful sex
tender, enlarged lymph nodes in the groin

Incubation Period

2 to 12 days.


doctorGenital herpes can not be cured. The virus will stay in your body forever, but it will remain dormant most of the time, if you are lucky. There is a treatment for it that your health care provider can prescribe. Acyclovir, an anti-viral drug, can relieve the symptoms faster than they would without the drug. Acyclovir or famciclovir (FAMVIR) will also shorten the amount time you are contagiousness and help you have fewer and shorter outbreaks in the future. Ask your health care provider about this drug if you have genital herpes it works very well for many people.

If a woman has herpes during pregnancy, she can pass the disease to her baby during delivery. A pregnant woman with a history of herpes must tell her obstetrician. If you have an outbreak at the time of delivery, a cesarean section is usually performed instead of a vaginal birth and will usually prevent any complications to the child.

Genital Herpes


To prevent genital herpes:

Ask and talk! Ask your partner(s) if they have had herpes because herpes may be spread from areas not protected by condoms; for example, the groin, thigh, and abdomen.
Abstain from sexual intercourse.
Use condoms every time you have intercourse, condoms and spermicide used properly will protect you from HSV-II.
Avoid oral-genital and oral-anal sex with someone who has cold sores on the mouth, or if you have cold sores. Cold sores are caused by HSV-I and can infect the genitals. See our Cold Sores section.

Use a CONDOM every time you have sexual intercourse. For condom help...

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