What is genital herpes?
Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by a virus spread during sex with an infected partner.
Anyone can become infected, but your risk is increased by having multiple sex partners or by having another STD. Genital herpes is a lifelong infection with symptoms that can come and go throughout life.
Signs and symptoms
Symptoms can include:
- Burning or tingling in the genital area
- Small red bumps or clear blisters in the genital area; these can become open sores (ulcers), then crust over and heal within two to three weeks
- Painful blisters and sores
- Burning with urination
- Enlarged and tender lymph nodes
- Vaginal discharge (in girls and women)
Genital herpes is caused by a virus that is spread during sex with an infected partner.
Testing and diagnosis
If you suspect you have genital herpes, make an appointment with your healthcare provider. The doctor or nurse will use a cotton swab to collect fluid and skin cells from the herpes blister or sore, then send them to a lab to look for evidence of the herpes virus. If there is no blister or open sore to swab, then clinicians cannot test for active genital herpes infection.
There is no cure for genital herpes. The virus lives in nerve cells in your body. Periodically, the virus comes to the surface and causes symptoms.
However, there are medications you can take to shorten the healing time by a few days. There are also medications to help reduce the number of episodes you have over time — once you have been infected.
The best way to prevent spreading the infection is to avoid sex until the sores have completely healed. Because the virus can be active without any sores present, it is important to use condoms or other barrier contraceptives even when you have no symptoms.
The genital herpes sores will heal — with or without medication. It is important to note, though, that having sores from genital herpes will increase your chances of getting other STDs, including HIV infection. By being tested for the virus, you can better educate yourself on how to practice safer sex and avoid passing the active virus on to sexual partners.
Women can also spread genital herpes to their newborn babies, causing serious infections in the baby. If you are pregnant, talk to your obstetrician about how to best protect your baby from the genital herpes virus.