Genital herpes

Overview

Genital herpes is a common sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by two viruses: herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). Passed through sexual contact, the virus can be inactive, meaning there would be no present symptoms. However, you may suffer from outbreaks of blisters and ulcers. Once infected, the condition is irreversible. If you are pregnant and have genital herpes, you should ask your doctor about any possible preventative measures, as it can be passed to your child through birth. 

Causes and risk factors

HSV-1 and HSV-2, the two types of herpes simplex viruses, cause genital herpes. The HSV-1 virus typically causes cold sores around the mouth and can be spread to the genital area during oral sex. HSV-2 is the most common cause of genital herpes. This virus is spread through sexual and skin-to-skin contact. It is contagious even if you don’t have an open sore. Having multiple sex partners puts you at an elevated risk for developing genital herpes.  

Symptoms

Symptoms may include painful blisters or open sores in the genital area, which may be preceded by a tingling or burning sensation in the legs, buttocks, or genital region. Pain during urination is another common symptom. The herpes sores usually disappear within a few weeks, but the virus remains in the body and the lesions may recur from time to time.

Diagnosis

Tests used to diagnose genital herpes include:

  • Viral culture
  • Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) — PCR is used to copy your DNA from either a tissue from a sore, spinal fluid or blood. DNA can be tested to determine the type of HSV virus present
  • Blood test 

Treatment

There is no cure for genital herpes, however, treatment with antiviral prescription medications could help sores heal sooner, lessen symptoms, reduce frequency of sores and minimize the chances of passing the disease to partners. If you are pregnant, your doctor may give you an antiviral medication to avoid an outbreak at the time of birth. 

Find the doctor who is right for you.