What is Genital Herpes?

Genital herpes is a common sexually transmitted infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Sexual contact is the primary way that the virus spreads. After the initial infection, the virus lies dormant in your body and can reactivate several times a year.

Genital herpes can cause pain, itching and sores in your genital area. But you may have no signs or symptoms of genital herpes. If infected, you can be contagious even if you have no visible sores.


Most people infected with HSV don’t know they have it because they don’t have any signs or symptoms or because their signs and symptoms are so mild.

When present, symptoms may begin about two to 12 days after exposure to the virus. If you experience symptoms of genital herpes, they may include:

● Pain or itching. You may experience pain and tenderness in your genital area until the infection clears.

● Small red bumps or tiny white blisters. These may appear a few days to a few weeks after infection.

● Ulcers. These may form when blisters rupture and ooze or bleed. Ulcers may make it painful to urinate.

● Scabs. Skin will crust over and form scabs as ulcers heal.

Recurrences are common

Genital herpes is different for each person. The signs and symptoms may recur, off and on, for years. Some people experience numerous episodes each year. For many people, however, the outbreaks are less frequent as time passes.

During a recurrence, shortly before sores appear, you may feel:

● Burning, tingling and itching where the infection first entered your body

 ● Pain in your lower back, buttocks and legs

However, recurrences are generally less painful than the original outbreak, and sores generally heal more quickly.


Two types of herpes simplex virus infections can cause genital herpes:

HSV-1​: This is the type that usually causes cold sores or fever blisters around your mouth. HSV-1 is often spread through skin-to-skin contact, though it can be spread to your genital area during oral sex. Recurrences are much less frequent than they are with HSV-2 infection.

HSV-2​: This is the type that commonly causes genital herpes. The virus spreads through sexual contact and skin-to-skin contact. HSV-2 is very common and highly contagious, whether or not you have an open sore.


The suggestions for preventing genital herpes are the same as those for preventing other sexually transmitted infections: Abstain from sexual activity or limit sexual contact to only one person who is infection-free. Short of that, you can:

● Use, or have your partner use, a latex condom during every sexual contact

● Avoid intercourse if either partner has an outbreak of herpes in the genital area or anywhere else.


Viral culture.​ This test involves taking a tissue sample or scraping of the sores for examination in the laboratory.

Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.​ PCR is used to copy your DNA from a sample of your blood, tissue from a sore or spinal fluid. The DNA can then be tested to establish the presence of HSV and determine which type of HSV you have.

Blood test. ​This test analyzes a sample of your blood for the presence of HSV antibodies to detect a past herpes infection.


Antiviral medications ​used for genital herpes include:

● Acyclovir (Zovirax)

● Valacyclovir (Valtrex)