Genital Herpes

Many people who are infected with the herpes virus have no symptoms or fail to recognize the symptoms.
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What Is Genital Herpes?

Genital herpes is a viral infection, most often caused by the herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). An estimated one million people contract genital herpes each year in the United States. While the symptoms of herpes can be treated, the infection cannot be cured. Once infected with the virus, people remain infected throughout their lives. Genital herpes can cause recurrent, painful sores. The disease can be fatal in newborns and particularly severe in people with HIV infection. People with genital herpes may be more susceptible to HIV infection.

How Is It Spread?

Herpes is passed through direct contact, including genital, oral, or anal sex or skin-to-skin contact. Genital herpes can be spread with or without the presence of sores or other symptoms. It often is transmitted by people who are unaware they are infected or by people who do not know that their infection can be transmitted even when they have no symptoms. Genital herpes can also be passed from mother to baby during delivery.

What Are the Symptoms?

Most people with herpes have no symptoms. If symptoms are present, they may include painful sores or blisters on the genitals. Outbreaks can range from mild to severe. A person's first outbreak is often accompanied by flu-like symptoms, including a fever, headache, and fatigue.

How Is It Diagnosed?

Visit your health-care provider or a family-planning clinic.

How Is It Treated?

While there is no cure for genital herpes, antiviral medications can shorten or prevent outbreaks.

How Can I Protect Myself?

Condoms offer some protection, but they may not cover a herpes blister, and the virus can "shed" outside the area protected by a condom. If you or your partner has genital herpes, it is best to abstain from sex when symptoms are present and to use latex condoms between outbreaks.

Information Resources

Related Fact Sheets


From the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association Copyright 2003. All rights reserved.



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