Skip to content

Genital Herpes Health Center

Select An Article

Sexual Health and Genital Herpes

Font Size

Genital herpes is a highly contagious infection usually spread through intercourse with a person with infected sores, but it also can be passed through oral or anal sex. It may also be spread even when sores are not visible.

Genital herpes can also be transmitted (spread) to a newborn during birth if the mother has an active infection.

Recommended Related to Genital Herpes

Pregnancy and Genital Herpes

Pregnant women with genital herpes should be careful -- but not overly worried -- about passing the virus on to the baby. A mother can infect her baby during delivery, often fatally. But if a woman had genital herpesbefore getting pregnant, or if she is first infected early in pregnancy, the chance that her baby will be infected is very low -- less than 1%. Women with genital herpes are examined carefully for any symptoms before giving birth. If sores or signs that an outbreak is coming show up...

Read the Pregnancy and Genital Herpes article > >

What Causes Genital Herpes?

Usually, this infection is caused by the herpes simplex virus-2 (HSV-2), although herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV-1), the virus responsible for cold sores, is increasingly the cause of the disease. It can be spread by an infected partner who does not have any sores and may not know he or she has the disease.

How Common Is Genital Herpes?

At least 45 million American adults and adolescents have genital herpes -- that's one out of every four to five people, making it one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases. Since the late 1970s, the number of Americans with genital herpes infection has increased 30%, mostly in teens and young adults.

Genital herpes is more common in women than in men.

How Do I Know If I Have Genital Herpes?

Most people infected with genital herpes have very minimal or no signs or symptoms of their disease. The first attack of herpes usually follows this course:

  • Skin on or near the sex organ becomes inflamed. Skin may burn, itch, or be painful.
  • Blister-like sores appear on or near the sex organs.
  • Sores open, scab over, and then heal.

Symptoms that may also be present when the virus first appears include:

The first outbreak of herpes can last for several weeks. After the outbreak, the virus retreats to the nervous system, where it remains inactive until something triggers it to become active again.

Typically, another outbreak can appear weeks or months after the first, but it almost always is less severe and shorter than the first episode. Although the infection can stay in the body indefinitely, the number of outbreaks tends to decrease over a period of years.

Next Article:

Today on WebMD

STD Overview
Slideshow
BHC Healthy Sex Life
Quiz
 
things your guy wish you knew slideshow
Slideshow
Sex Drive Killers 03
Slideshow
 
Genital Herpes Risks Quiz
Quiz
Young couple holding hands
Quiz
 
Hepatitis Prevent 10
Feature
Herpes Vaccine Study
Video
 
Daughter Development Evaluator
Article
HPV Vaccine Future
Article
 
STD Facts Quiz
Quiz
mother and daughter talking
Tool
 

WebMD Special Sections