Genital herpes is a common disease caused by a virus. The virus is called the herpes simplex virus type 2. It causes painful blisters that break open and form sores on the genital area of both men and women.
You can become infected with the virus by contact with broken blisters or sores on the genitals, mouth, or rectal area of an infected person. This infection can be passed from person to person during sexual intercourse. You may spread it with your hands if the virus gets on your hands.
Once you’re infected, the virus stays in your body for the rest of your life. Usually the virus is in an inactive state, which means it is staying in nerve cells near the spine and not causing symptoms. The first time you come into contact with the virus, you may not have any symptoms.
Symptoms may occur about 2 to 10 days after the virus first enters your body and may include:
- Painful sores (blisters) on the genitals
- General discomfort, muscle aches
- Vaginal discharge
- Itching around genitals
- Difficulty urinating
- Pain during intercourse
Genital herpes cannot be cured. The virus will stay in your body. However, your health care provider may prescribe acyclovir, famciclovir, or valacyclovir to relieve the symptoms more quickly. The medicine will help you have fewer and shorter outbreaks in the future. If a pregnant woman has an active herpes infection at the time her baby is born, she could pass the disease to her baby. If you are pregnant and have had herpes, tell your health care provider so steps can be taken to avoid infecting the baby at delivery.
Following preventive measures should be taken to avoid this infection:
- Practice safe sex. Always use latex or polyurethane condoms during any sexual contact because it is not possible always to know or predict when the virus can be shed or passed to another.
- Ask your partner(s) if they have had herpes because herpes may be spread from areas not protected by condoms; for example, the groin, thigh, and abdomen.
- Avoid oral-genital and oral-anal sex with someone who has fever blisters (cold sores) in the mouth. Cold sores are caused by a related virus that can infect the genitals.