Genital herpes is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases in the U.S. It is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV).
Most cases of genital herpesare caused by infection by the herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2).
Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) is more often the cause of coldsores or fever blisters. But it can also be a cause of genital herpes.
Most people with genital herpes do nOt know they have it. That’s because in most people it produces either no symptoms or very mild ones.
Even though you can still pass the infection, you may never notice that you have symptoms from an HSV infection. On the other hand, you might notice symptoms within a few days to a couple of weeks after the initial contact. Or, you might not have an initial outbreak of symptoms until months or even years after becoming infected.
When symptoms occur soon after a person is infected, they tend to be severe. They may start as small blisters that eventually break open and produce raw, painful sores that scab and heal over within a few weeks. The blisters and sores may be accompanied by flu-like symptoms with fever and swollen lymph nodes.
Any of the following symptoms of a genital HSV infection can occur in a man or a woman:
- Cracked, raw, or red areas around your genitals without pain, itching, or tingling
- Itching or tingling around your genitals or your anal region
- Small blisters that break open and cause painful sores. These may be on or around your genitals (penis or vagina) or on your buttocks, thighs, or rectal area. More rarely, blisters may occur inside the urethra — the tube urine passes through on its way out of your body.
- Pain from urine passing over the sores — this is especially a problem in women.
- Flu-like symptoms, including fever, swollen lymph nodes, and fatigue
Genital herpes is not the only condition that can produce these symptoms. Sometimes, HSV is mistaken for vaginal yeast infections, bacterial infections, or bladder infections. The only way to know whether they are the result of HSV or another condition is to be checked by a health care provider.
Genital herpes is diagnosed with a physical exam and typically confirmed with a swab test or a blood test.
There is no cure for genital herpes. But the symptoms can be lessened and prevented with treatment. Treatment can also reduce the risk of infecting others.
Your health care provider may prescribe antiviral medications to help prevent or reduce the pain and discomfort from an outbreak of symptoms. Medication taken on a daily basis to suppress the virus can reduce the number of outbreaks and reduce the risk of infecting others.