- Genital Herpes
- Herpes Genitalis
- Herpes Groin
- Herpes Simplex Type 2
Genital herpes is an infection of the *genitals, *buttocks, or *anal area caused by herpes simplex virus (HSV). Most genital herpes is caused by HSV type 2. Yet as people begin to have sex at younger ages the herpes type 1 virus has increasingly been shown to also cause genital herpes. Photos
Related Guide: Your Guide to STDs
One out of four teens in the United States becomes infected with an STD each year and by the age of 25, half of all sexually active young adults will get an STD.
Tool: Are You at Risk of Genital Herpes?
This brief questionnaire will let you know.
Related Guide: What Increases Your Risk of Herpes
Lots of risk factors can increase your risk of genital herpes. Stress, fatigue, and being a woman are herpes risk factors, read more.
Risks Associated With Oral Sex and Genital Herpes
Receiving oral sex raises women’s genital herpes risk, a study shows.
Rare Circumcision Ritual Carries Herpes Risk
Male infants can become infected with the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) after undergoing circumcision that included direct oral-genital contact between the infant and the circumciser. Read more about circumcision and herpes risks.
If you are in a relationship, delay having sex until you are physically and emotionally prepared, have agreed to only have sex with each other, and have both been tested for STDs.
Abstinence as prevention Completely avoiding sexual contact (abstinence), including intercourse or oral sex, is the only certain way to prevent an infection.
Discuss safe sex with your partnerDiscuss STDs before you have sex with someone. Even though a sex partner doesn't have symptoms of an STD, he or she may still be infected.
- How many people have you had sex with?
- Have you had sex without a condom?
- Have you ever had unprotected oral sex?
- Have you had more than one sex partner at a time?
- Do you inject illegal drugs or have you had sex with someone who injects drugs?
- Have you ever had unprotected sex with a prostitute?
- Have you had a test for HIV? What were the results?
- Have you ever had an STD, including hepatitis B or hepatitis C? Was it treated and cured?
Safe sex practicesSome STDs, such as HIV, can take up to 6 months before they can be detected in the blood. Genital herpes and the human papillomavirus (HPV) can be spread when symptoms are not present. Even if you and your partner have been tested, use condoms for all sex until you and your partner haven't had sex with another person for 6 months. Then get tested again.
- Watch for symptoms of STDs, such as unusual discharge, sores, redness, or growths in your and your partner's genital area, or pain while urinating.
- Don't have more than one sex partner at a time. The safest sex is with one partner who has sex only with you. Every time you add a new sex partner, you are being exposed to all of the diseases that all of their partners may have. Your risk for an STD increases if you have several sex partners at the same time.
- Use a condom every time you have sex. A condom is the best way to protect yourself from STDs. Latex and polyurethane condoms do not let STD viruses pass through, so they offer good protection from STDs. Condoms made from sheep intestines do not protect against STDs.
- Use a water-based lubricant such as K-Y Jelly or Astroglide to help prevent tearing of the skin if there is a lack of lubrication during sexual intercourse. Small tears in the vagina during vaginal sex or in the rectum during anal sex allow STDs to get into your blood.
- Avoid douching if you are a woman, because it can change the normal balance of organisms in the vagina and increases the risk of getting an STD.
- Be responsible. Avoid sexual contact if you have symptoms of an infection or if you are being treated for an STD or HIV. If you or your partner has herpes, avoid sexual contact when a blister is present and use condoms at all other times.
Genital herpes infections look like small blisters or ulcers (round areas of broken skin) on the genitals.
Each blister or ulcer is typically only 1 - 3 millimeters (1/32 inch to 1/8th inch) in size, and the blisters or ulcers tend to be grouped into "crops." Usually the blisters form first, then soon open to form ulcers. Herpes infections may be painless or slightly tender. In some people, however, the blisters or ulcers can be very tender and painful.
- In men, genital herpes sores (lesions) usually appear on or around the penis.
- In women, the lesions may be visible outside the vagina, but they commonly occur inside the vagina where they can cause discomfort or vaginal discharge but cannot be seen except during a doctor's examination.
- The ulcers or blisters may also be found anywhere around the genitals (the perineum) and in and around the anus.
Some people develop other signs of genital herpes infection, particularly with the first episode including:
- muscle aches,
- headaches (may be severe),
- vaginal discharge or painful urination, and
- swollen and tender lymph nodes in the groin (these swell as the body tries to fight the infection).
- If the disease returns, later outbreaks generally have much less severe symptoms. Many people with recurrent disease develop pain or a tingling sensation in the area of the infection even before any blisters or ulcers can be seen. This is due to irritation and inflammation of the nerves leading to the infected area of skin.
- These are signs that an outbreak is about to begin. The condition is particularly contagious during this period, even though the skin still appears normal.
- HSV type 1 (HSV-1). This is the type that usually causes cold sores or fever blisters around your mouth, though it can be spread to your genital area during oral sex.
- HSV type 2 (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. However, in many people the infection causes no recognized signs or symptoms and can still be spread to a sexual partner.
Diagnosis and Tests
Tests to Diagnose Genital Herpes
Blood Tests for Genital Herpes
- A false-negative result from a blood test is possible if you have been infected recently. It takes several weeks for HSV antibodies to show up in the blood.
- False-positive test results are possible, too. If you test positive, but your risk for getting the virus is low, you may need to be tested again.
Tzanck and PCR TestsOther ways to detect the herpes virus include the Tzanck test and the PCR test (mentioned above).
- A Tzanck test places a sample from a sore on a microscope slide and stains it with a dye. Cells that are infected with HSV look different from those that aren't. This test is not very accurate and has largely been replaced by culture and PCR testing.
- The PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test looks for pieces of the virus' DNA. It's an accurate test, but can be technically difficult to collect and run.
- New tests on the horizon include one that can detect HSV in saliva and urine. It was developed recently by a doctor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine for use in a safe-sex study in Africa. The test has not been marketed to the public.
Treatment and Care
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