Genital herpes

Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at February 9, 2016
StartDiseasesGenital herpes

Genital herpes is an infection that is extremely contagious. It is a common sexually transmitted disease.


Definition & Facts

Genital herpes is a viral infection that is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). The infection is found on the buttocks, genitals, or anal area. When genital herpes are seen, sores will form in one or all of these areas of the body.

Because genital herpes is so contagious, approximately one in five teens and adults in the United States have had genital herpes at some point. Most people that have had it do not even know they have it. But once a person has the infection, they will carry it for the rest of their life; there is no cure.

Symptoms & Complaints

The symptoms that come with genital herpes begin with little blisters. These blisters will eventually break open and become sores that are quite painful. These sores will eventually create a scab and then heal within a period of a few weeks. When an infected person has sores from the virus, they may also have flu-like symptoms and may run a fever. Other symptoms that have been seen with genital herpes include:


Genital herpes is spread through the skin from one infected person to another person. Once the herpes simplex virus gets into the skin of a person, it will travel along the nerve paths. While the virus is in the nerves, it could become dormant and stay in the nerves. At some time the virus could become active and will then travel back through the nerves to get to the skin. Once at the skin, the virus may then begin to show symptoms.

The cause of genital herpes is the herpes simplex virus. There are two different types of HSV, type 1 (which is also the virus that causes cold sores) and type 2. HSV type 2 is most often the cause of genital herpes.

Genital herpes is spread through sexual contact with a person that is infected with the virus. The sexual contact is most often through sexual intercourse, but can also be transferred through both oral sex and anal sex.

Although genital herpes are identified by sores, someone that has genital herpes will not necessarily form sores, so they may not even know they have it. The infection can be spread even if the infected person does not have any sores or know they have genital herpes.

Diagnosis & Tests

A person infected with genital herpes may believe that the symptoms they have are caused by a yeast infection, bladder infection, or bacterial infection. The only way for a person to determine the cause of their symptoms is to go to the doctor. The doctor will do a physical examination and then run tests in order to verify whether or not the patient has genital herpes.

There are two different types of tests that the doctor may complete. The first is to swab the sores the patient has. It is best to have this type of test done as soon as the sores appear. The test will be more accurate when it is performed early.

The second test that is done is a blood test. This is also the most common test that is performed when genital herpes is suspected. The blood sample that is taken will be tested to determine whether or not the patient has the herpes simplex virus and can also determine what type of HSV is the cause.

Treatment & Therapy

If a person has been diagnosed with genital herpes, medication will be used in order to treat it. The medication will often help to reduce the amount of breakouts a person has as well as reducing how often the breakouts occur. The medication can also help to reduce the chances of a sexual partner getting the virus from the infected person. Something to keep in mind is that the medication may make the virus a little more tolerable, but it will not remove it from the person's body. Genital herpes is not curable. The infected person will live with it for the rest of their life.

There are three different medications that are often prescribed for a patient with genital herpes. They are:

All of these medications are antiviral drugs and will be given in the form of a pill. In some of the most severe cases, an IV form of one of these drugs will be given.

Because genital herpes is a lifelong virus, more than one treatment needs to be given. The first treatment will be given as soon as it is verified that the patient has genital herpes. Medication will be given for a period of seven to 10 days. If the sores have not healed after the 10 days, it may be necessary to stay on the medication for a longer period so the sores will go away.

The second form of medication treatment that is given will depend on how frequently the patient has genital herpes outbreaks. If the patient has frequent outbreaks, a doctor may decide to try and suppress the virus by prescribing antiviral medication to be taken every day. When patients are taking a daily antiviral, they often remain free of outbreaks altogether. If the outbreaks a patient has do not happen that often, then the doctor will likely give the patient a prescription that can be used when an outbreak occurs.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

The best way for someone to protect themselves from genital herpes is to practice safe sex and use a latex condom during intercourse. If an infected person has an outbreak, sexual contact should be avoided until the outbreak goes away.

If a woman is pregnant and has genital herpes, some precautions may be taken right before and during childbirth to try and eliminate the transmission from the mother to the child. Late in the pregnancy, the doctor may have the woman begin to take an antiviral medication to try and prevent an outbreak from occurring at the time of childbirth. If the woman goes into labor and is currently going through an outbreak of genital herpes, the doctor will likely choose to deliver the baby by Caesarean section, to limit the risk to the child.