One in five Americans has genital herpes, but many don't know it because the symptoms can be mild or even absent. Genital herpes is usually spread by sexual contact and caused by the type 2 herpes virus (HSV-2). However, the type 1 herpes virus (HSV-1), which more commonly causes cold sores, can also infect the genitals -- usually through oral sex.
There's no cure for genital herpes. Once infected, you're infected for life.
Herpes is most often spread from active sores. But you don't have to have...
Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) is more often the cause of cold sores or fever blisters. But it can also be a cause of genital herpes.
Most people with genital herpes don't know they have it. That's because in most people it produces either no symptoms or very mild ones.
What Happens in an HSV Infection?
Genital herpes virus is passed from one person to another through sexual contact. This happens even if the person with the virus doesn't have symptoms or signs of infection.
Once the virus enters through the skin, it travels along nerve paths. It may become dormant (inactive) in the nerves and remain there indefinitely.
From time to time, the virus may become active. When that happens, the virus travels back along the nerve path to the surface of the skin, where additional virus is shed.
At this point the virus may cause an outbreak of symptoms. Or it may remain undetected.
In either case, the active virus is easily passed from one partner to another through sexual contact. Even wearing a condom may not protect the uninfected partner. The virus can be present on skin that remains uncovered.
The number of recurrences or outbreaks a person can have may vary.
What Are the Symptoms of Genital Herpes?
Even though you can still pass the infection, you may never notice symptoms from an HSV infection. On the other hand, you might notice symptoms within a few days to a couple of weeks after the initial contact. Or, you might not have an initial outbreak of symptoms until months or even years after becoming infected.
When symptoms occur soon after a person is infected, they tend to be severe. They may start as small blisters that eventually break open and produce raw, painful sores that scab and heal over within a few weeks. The blisters and sores may be accompanied by flu-like symptoms with fever and swollen lymph nodes.