Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). The most common way to get it is through sexual or other physical contact with someone who has herpes.
Genital herpes is caused by a virus called herpes simplex. There are two types of this virus. Type 2 is the type that usually causes genital herpes. But type 1 can also cause it. Type 1 is the type that causes cold sores.
Some people are surprised to find out that they have herpes or that they gave it to someone else. This is because a lot of people who have it don’t know that they have it. They may not get sores or they may have sores that they can't see.
There is no cure for herpes. But antiviral medicine can help you feel better and help prevent more outbreaks. This medicine may also lower the chance of spreading the virus.
What are the symptoms of genital herpes?
Most people never have any symptoms of genital herpes. But some people have painful or bothersome symptoms, such as itchy, painful blisters on the penis or around the vagina. The blisters break open and turn into oozing, shallow sores. Some people have flu-like symptoms, such as a fever and muscle aches.
How is genital herpes diagnosed?
Your doctor may be able to diagnose genital herpes by examining you, especially if the sores look like herpes. If this is your first outbreak, your doctor may take a sample of fluid from the sore for testing. Testing can help the doctor be sure that you have herpes. You may also have a blood test.
Your doctor may ask about your symptoms. For example, you may be asked if you:
- Have sores in your genital area.
- Have any discharge from your vagina or penis.
- Urinate often, or if it burns or stings when you urinate.
The doctor may ask you questions about your risk factors. These are things that make you more likely to get an infection. For example, the doctor may ask about your sexual practices. You may be asked if you use condoms.
How is genital herpes treated?
Although there's no cure for genital herpes, treatment can help.
- Medicines. Antiviral medicines are the recommended treatment. They can be taken during an outbreak to relieve pain and discomfort and help sores heal faster. They work best if you start them as soon as possible after an outbreak begins. If you have a lot of outbreaks, medicines can also be taken every day. This helps reduce spreading the virus to others and helps limit the number of outbreaks.
- Home treatment. Examples include taking warm sitz baths and wearing cotton underwear. These may help relieve discomfort from sores.
Finding out that you have herpes may cause you to feel a range of emotions. Talking to your partner, a counselor, or a support group may help.