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Common Symptoms of Genital Herpes

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Genital herpes is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases in the U.S. It is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV).

Most cases of genital herpes are caused by infection by the herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2).

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You have been told you're infected with a virus for which there is no cure, and one that affects a very sensitive area. That's crummy news, but don't get too down about it. Above all, realize that genital herpes is very common. Chances are one of your friends, family members, or co-workers has it, too. If you have read about genital herpes, you know the statistic: About one in five people in the U.S. is infected. But you may not realize that some diseases we consider quite common are less so than...

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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.

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