What Is Genital Herpes?
Herpes is a sexually-transmitted diseased that’s caused by a virus called the herpes simplex virus. There are two types of herpes simplex viruses: Type 1, or HSV-1, and Type 2, or HSV-2.
HSV-1 is also known as oral herpes because it causes sores around the mouth and lips, such as fever blisters or cold sores. HSV-2 is known as genital herpes because it causes sores below the waist, usually around the genitals or rectum. However, HSV-1 can also cause genital herpes.
How Do You Get Genital Herpes?
You can get genital herpes by coming into contact with a herpes lesion or secretions from a lesion. Genital herpes is usually only contracted with a sex partner who has an active HSV-2 infection. Lesions from which you can contract genital herpes might be inside the mouth, anus or vagina, and therefore not visible to you or your sex partner.
How Do You Know You Have Genital Herpes?
Many people with genital herpes don’t have any symptoms or have very mild symptoms that are mistaken for other skin conditions.
Those who have symptoms will first experience small blisters around the genitals, anus or mouth about four days after being exposed to the virus. These blisters will break and leave very painful ulcers that might take weeks or a month to heal. This might be accompanied by other symptoms such as fever, body aches, headache and sore genitals. When this happens, you are said to be having a “herpes outbreak.”
Once you have your first herpes outbreak, these outbreaks will recur, usually without warning and on no particular schedule. However, each subsequent outbreak is typically a little shorter than the previous, and the first outbreak is usually the worst.
Can You Treat or Cure Genital Herpes?
There is no cure for genital herpes and no vaccine to prevent it. You can treat genital herpes, however, with antiviral medications that might help suppress or shorten herpes outbreaks. These medicines might also lower the risk that you can pass the virus to someone else.
Is Genital Herpes Dangerous?
When you have genital herpes, you can contract HIV much more easily because the herpes ulcers allow HIV to enter your body more easily.
People with a weakened immune system often experience outbreaks that are more severe and persistent than someone with a normal immune system.
Can You Prevent Genital Herpes?
The only way to avoid getting genital herpes is to abstain from having sex. The next best protection is probably to be in a mutually-monogamous relationship where both partners have been tested for STDs. If you’re a sexually-active adult, you can lower the risk of contracting genital herpes by using condoms.
People with genital herpes who take valacylovir daily are at a lower risk of transmitting the disease to a sexual partner.
How Do You Test for Genital Herpes?
If you go to your doctor or to a clinic, they will probably want to swab your genital areas to test for herpes. However, a blood test is just as effective.
Can I Get an Anonymous Herpes Test?
Yes, you can get an anonymous herpes test legally. Genital herpes is not a notifiable disease in the United States, so healthcare professionals do not have to report you or furnish your personal information to the state health department.
How Can I Learn More About Genital Herpes?
Read the CDC Fact Sheet on Genital Herpes.